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Menstruation in workspaces

By Skye

A 2017 survey by women’s fertility and health tracker Maya, found that nearly 50 percent of menstruators in India have irregular menstrual cycles and another 68 percent of menstruators experience severe menstrual pain and fatigue. While it is important data, there are also numerous other menstruators who might have been left out from the survey and the statistics could only be more concerning if not equal.

The attached physical and psychological effects of menstruation on individuals affect their lives differently; for a few it might not be an issue but for others, periods are a dreadful nightmare that might seem impossible to escape. Workspaces are often inconsiderate of the struggles that a menstruator might be going through due to those physical and psychological effects and are often ridiculed for putting their own health above their work. As menstruating bodies function differently, it is only normal to take different approaches on work and it is quite incomprehensible to set a standard protocol for work to be done without considering individual differences.

Menstruation being a taboo topic that transcends cultural boundaries also mingles into economic and political aspects of a menstruator’s life. While most professional spaces in India, be it the public or the private sector, have a poor history of inclusivity to facilitate and empower people with uteruses; these societal taboos only create hurdles for menstruators in professional spaces, making things tougher than it already is. Stereotypically, menstruating people are barred from going to their schools or workspaces during their periods but as the society evolves, so do the taboos.

In a modern stereotypical world that puts no less effort in degrading menstruators and denying agency over their own bodies, they are given the illusion development where they do carry on their professional activities outside their homes but are forced to adhere to the same old rules inside their homes, like not entering the kitchen and prayer rooms, eating separately, not touching pickles or spices and so on. Menstrual practices do vary from region to region and the taboos survive in most of the places but the role of caste and class plays a distinct role in this conversation. While most marginalized households in urban spaces do not adhere to menstrual norms as most of them work as daily wage laborers and live in limited spaces that makes it impossible to practice such taboos; rural communities on the other hand strictly adhere to the age old stereotypes related to menstruation.

In our country, most cisgender men are inadequately informed on menstruation and they see the entire process only as means to mock menstruators, invalidating their pain; it’s not unheard of for men to mock menstruators with the phrase ‘those days of the month’, whenever they are genuinely upset or frustrated about something. The misinformation that claims that menstruators and women only pretend to be suffering from pain during their periods to escape work, comes from the lack of information about various menstrual disorders that one might be suffering from. While it is unfair that such insensitivity only add on to menstruators' discomfort, they are also forced to spend a huge amount of money each month only to access period products, including the taxes which treat menstruation as a luxurious activity instead of treating it like a basic biological process.

Taking things into consideration, the Menstruation Benefit Bill was tabled by former Lok Sabha MP Ninong Ering representing Arunachal Pradesh in 2018, opening up the table for discussion and debate. The ongoing struggle to ensure paid menstrual leaves in all professional sectors has been countered by an anti-feminist approach that claims that paying menstruators on their period leaves (which they do not consider to be serious enough) is only an opportunity for them to slack off their responsibilities without being held accountable. The dramatic irony to be noted here is that non-menstruators are taking the primary lead on conversations concerning menstruating bodies.

In recent times, companies, including the famous food delivery service Zomato became a topic of debate after it announced two days of paid menstrual leave each month for their menstruating employees. Netizens left no stone unturned in ensuring a full blown debate over menstruating bodies while deliberately suppressing menstruating voices. Surprisingly, even a liberal feminist women were in the forefront in criticizing paid menstrual leaves as they believe that one cannot claim equality by demanding special privileges. While the topic of paid menstrual leaves is supposed to be an individual's free choice to access, such claims only debilitates the oppression that menstruators have been forced to endure through centuries. Reservation and affirmative actions are itself a constitutional way to bring privileged and oppressed sections to an equilibrium of power and in this situation, I believe it is clear enough how oppression against menstruators work.

A lot of prejudice related to menstruation comes from a patriarchal mindset that validates people with uteruses’ struggle only if cisgender men deem it fit for the cause. Therefore, to create a more inclusive space where people get justified opportunities to focus on their professional work is necessary for the development of each individual. A few ways to raise awareness around menstrual health in professional spaces are by: conducting workshops affirming menstrual health and period pain, peer sharing among the colleagues and affirming policies against discrimination or blatant misogyny masked under sarcasm against menstruators, free period products for menstruating employees, proper sanitation and hygiene facilities with washrooms and running water and so on.

In the present scenario, a few workspaces do uphold paid menstrual leaves but it is limited mostly to private sectors and doesn't include a large group of daily wage laborers who menstruate from the entire discourse of paid menstrual leaves. Menstruators from marginalized communities who cannot access the required healthcare and are forced to endure extreme period pain without any help should be equally included in the discussion of paid menstrual leaves as it also concerns their safety and health as much as it concerns privileged menstruators.

Another group that is left out from this discussion is the queer community. Intersex people, transgender men and gender non-confirming people with uteruses are not even acknowledged as menstruators and that creates a very biased account of period struggle, seen from a cis, heteronormative gaze. A discussion that concerns menstrual health should include each group of menstruators regardless of their caste, class and gender identity. We, as a collective society who hold privilege, owe it to share that privilege and stop taking up space that is meant to be shared by all. Menstrual inclusive workspaces are an utmost necessity for a developing country like India, to ensure individual and collective economic-political development of menstruators that would facilitate them in claiming agency over their own bodies and be a part of the decision making process in a more inclusive manner.


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