In a move to bust stigma around the menstruation, food ordering platform Zomato announced a paid menstrual leave policy last week, which has again triggered an old debate on the issue. This move has witnessed polarised opinions on the issue by both men and women, with one group believing that it is a regressive move that would promote biological determinism and gender divide, while the other feels that it would increase gender sensitivity at the workplace.
But reprisals against any benefits to women is not new with its history dating back to the 1st and 2nd wave of feminism. Betty Fridan’s The Feminine Mystique has its distinctive place in igniting the 2nd wave of feminism. It rails against systematic sexism – a belief that taught women that their place was at home and they had no right to be unhappy, thus provoking extensive discussions about the nature of gender and origin of family as an institution. The book might not be revolutionary in nature but it gave a cultural momentum to the revolution.
‘The Personal is Political’ was the reply of 2nd wavers to systematic sexism, domestic violence, sexual harassment at home and workplace, reproductive rights and other things. This movement was fairly successful in gaining legislative victories as notable measures like Equal Pay Act, Civil Rights Act, Educational Equity Act, Equal Credit Opportunities Act, Legalisation of oral contraceptive pills, among many others, were taken in different parts of the globe in the 1970s and 80s.
The revanchism of men during the 2nd wave was also peculiar. Gender ideology and power symmetry in the society was increasingly becoming more subtle. So, it was not a duck soup journey for the feminists as they did not have to fight legislative wars alone, but deal with ever increasing domestic violence as well. Creating awareness among the masses was also difficult. The broader and more critical issue about gender sensitivity, which requires a lot more than state legislation, received a serious hit back. Feminist aspirations to develop a (more) cohesive and gender sensitive society went in peril.
“Period pain cannot be generalised, but these 3-4 days are difficult for every woman. I know it is a normal biological experience and not a commemorative event, and we need to embrace it and move ahead, but it has its own physical and emotional strains on every woman's body that cannot be trivialised. Demanding these leaves in no way means that we are conforming to the patriarchal notion of biological and physical superiority of men'' said Kirti Narang, a student of Hindu College.
On the question of how the provision of period leave would affect the mindset of an employer while hiring female candidates, Mr. Dheeraj Gounder who owns and runs two schools in Rajasthan, comments “ I respect women from the core of my heart, but at the end of the day I am here to do my business. If certain biological factors hinder their productivity and they are not able to perform equally as compared to their male counterparts, a bias ought to occur when i see it from the lens of an employer.”
History tells us how the reaction of men diluted the struggle of women even after several legislative victories across the globe( and in the larger picture proved to be a serious impediment to women emancipation). Some argue that men didn’t do anything, but in reality, their inaction caused every possible harm to the issue. By trivialising issues of serious concern, they diluted the very idea of a gender sensitive society, and such society cannot be developed through legislative reforms only. We have been caught up in the same nexus now as well.
The idea of period leaves might have some inherent problems and not everyone would subscribe to it. You can (and you should) oppose the idea if you want to, but trivialising the needs of others would hinder the process of making our workplaces and society gender sensitive, and would again take the struggle for emancipation decades back.
By Rohan Kataria
Rohan Kataria is a student of BA programme, Hindu College. A part-time learner and a full-time explorer he can be seen playing basketball during his free hours. Keenly interested in public diplomacy , public policy and international relations, but his love for motorsport is unmatched.