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VOTE! Should there be a ‘paid leave’ policy for menstruation?

Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani opposes the idea of mandatory paid menstrual leave for women employees, stating menstruation is a natural part of life. She emphasizes the potential for discrimination against women in the workforce

VOTE should there be a 'paid leave' policy for menstruation?
First Published Dec 14, 2023, 11:05 AM IST

Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani has expressed her opposition to the idea of implementing mandatory paid menstrual leave for women employees. During a session in the Rajya Sabha, Irani responded to MP Manoj Kumar Jha's question on Wednesday, stating that menstruation is a natural aspect of women's lives and should not be considered a handicap requiring special leave provisions.

Irani emphasized, "As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstruation cycle is not a handicap, it’s a natural part of a woman’s life journey." She cautioned that introducing menstrual leave could potentially lead to discrimination against women in the workforce. Irani urged against proposing measures that might deny equal opportunities to women based on a particular viewpoint towards menstruation.

While expressing her stance on menstrual leave, Irani acknowledged the significance of menstrual hygiene. She announced the formulation of a draft national policy by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, developed in collaboration with stakeholders. The policy aims to enhance awareness and access to proper menstrual hygiene management practices across the country.

Irani also highlighted the existing 'Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)' scheme, specifically aimed at adolescent girls aged 10 to 19. Supported by the National Health Mission, this scheme focuses on enhancing knowledge about menstrual hygiene through various education and awareness programs.

This announcement follows a report presented in Parliament on Monday, indicating that the matter of special menstrual leave is considered a health issue falling under the purview of the health ministry for examination.

While the topic of menstrual leave has stirred debates globally, with Spain recently passing legislation allowing paid leave for painful periods, the Indian context currently sees no proposal under consideration by the government to mandate paid menstrual leave across all workplaces. Irani clarified this in response to a question from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on December 8.

In a written response submitted in the upper house, Irani acknowledged that a small proportion of women/girls suffer from severe dysmenorrhea or similar complaints, manageable by medication. However, she emphasized the sensitivity of the issue, noting that menstruation and its associated activities are often surrounded by silence, treated with shame, and subject to social taboos.

Notably, in October, the government released a draft Menstrual Hygiene Policy advocating for leave provisions for menstruating individuals in workplaces. The draft emphasized the need for inclusive educational institutions and workplaces, promoting flexibility in working arrangements to accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce during menstruation.

During the session, concerns were also raised about potential risks associated with sanitary napkins due to certain substances used in their production. In response, Irani highlighted the availability of sanitary napkins at affordable prices through Jan Aushadi Kendra and assured that there have been no complaints through the 10,000 Jan Aushadi Kendra where sanitary napkins are available at 1 rupee.

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