A 22-year-old master’s student at the University of Delhi, Adrita Buragohain, who bleeds heavily, shares that she uses two sanitary pads at a time. She shares that she can’t risk staining her clothes in the classroom. “Menstrual leaves are also not covered by medical leaves that provide assistance to a student in an emergency. So what choice do I have? I can’t stain I can not miss [the classes]. So now I use two sanitary pads,” she continues. “Sometimes it’s very irritating,” says Buragohain.
According to a 2020 study by Statista, a consumer and market data company, adolescent (under 19), young adult (20-29) and adult (30-44) women experience the most of menstrual problems, including irregular bleeding, are one of them. These cases are reported more with menstruating men between the ages of 20 and 29. The data was collected by Sanyukta Kanwal, who is an expert in health research, pharmaceuticals and medtech for India.
Petition for Menstrual Leave
This age group consists mainly of menstruators who are students or working professionals. Lawyer Shailendra Mani Tripathi also filed a written petition in the Supreme Court, seeking menstrual leave for students and working women across India.
The petition was argued based on fundamental rights in light of article 14, which stated:
Therefore, it is a violation of article 14 to the extent that this Law differentiates women in the name of federalism and state policies. Although women experience similar health and physiological problems during their menstrual cycles, they are treated differently in different states of India. However, women having a citizenship i.e. of India should be treated equally and will be accorded the same rights.
The petition also highlighted blatant ignorance and unawareness regarding menstruation, as in the first budget session of 2022, when the 2017 Menstruation Benefits Bill was introduced, it was ridiculed by the Legislative Assembly. It was called an “impure issue,” and therefore the bill was dismissed.
What do menstruators think?
“As someone who has very bad cramps, I find it very difficult to navigate at work, so I take leave. So this arrangement [menstrual leave] would really help… nowadays almost everyone has PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) due to work stress, which is worse during periods. In such scenarios, menstrual leaves would be really helpful,” says lawyer Sanya Mehta, a legal researcher at the Delhi High Court.
According to a 2021 national study by Oziva, a nutrition brand, 1 in 5 women in India have PCOS. According to experts, PCOS (or polycystic ovary disorder, PCOD) makes menstrual pain and bleeding worse. However, due to the embarrassment associated with menstruation, the issues of PCOS and its impact on menstruating women are also not discussed.
Jaishree Kumar, a freelance journalist for PCOD, shares that she deals with erratic periods, which often lead to heavy bleeding. “The most recent experience is from three weeks ago when the doctor suspected that one of the cysts I had on my ovaries had burst, and I was just bleeding and in a lot of pain. No pain reliever would come to my rescue,” she says. She shares that she had to push herself in college for a day, which made things worse for her. Kumar, from her experience, believes then that it is important that educational institutions and workplaces grant menstrual licenses. “It shows that you care about your students and employees,” says Kumar.
Past, present and future of the menstrual leave
Going back in history, Lalu Yadav, in his first term as Chief Minister of Bihar, for the first time granted two days of menstrual leave per month to female employees of the Bihar government, in addition to the pre-existing leaves. Despite this step and many other companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Mathrubhumi etc. grant menstrual leave, the granting of menstrual leave, according to the petitioner, could be seen as a reason to discourage employers from hiring women. CJI DY Chandrachud also commented: “if employers were forced to give menstrual leave, it could discourage them from hiring women”.
“It’s a possibility,” says Mehta. “In order to implement this, people must first be sensitized to make sure it is not used against or an obstacle to menstruating women. But it would be great if menstrual leaves got the green flag.”
On February 24, the Supreme Court heard the petition and dismissed it asking the petitioner to present a representation before the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, since the petition is a matter of policy. It now remains to be seen whether the ministry will consider or dismiss the submissions.