I was ten years old when I first learned the ordeal of what women go through as a starting point of maturity. I still remember sitting with all the women of the family as they explained to my sister this part of womanhood and the importance it holds. Surely no one thought that an absentminded ten-year-old like me would understand anything they spoke about but my younger self had already deemed it a name – ‘Lady pampers’.
But unlike most, I was lucky enough to learn about menstruation before attaining it. There’s still a huge percentage of women who’ve been brought up not knowing about their bodies, and are thus shamed to the point of death for going through this perfectly normal process. In Nepal, they even build period huts wherein the female is exiled– their little isolation centers in which sometimes incubation goes up to 14 days to avoid physical contact at any cost (Because god forbid this impurity spreads, right?)
But these stigmas against periods have been woven into culture thousands of years ago. So when Zomato released its new policy applying to women and transgenders for a ten-day optional period leave, few sparks arose.
On 8th August, one of India’s biggest restaurant aggregators and food delivery companies had taken the milestone step of implementing an optional ten days of leave in a year for cis-women and trans-men. It brings relief to many women workers especially those who’ve had the misfortune of going through the worst of this monthly subscription of hell. Zomato’s implementation of a period leave has hailed kudos from social media and activists around the world, breaking stigmas around a very common, very normal, and very taboo phenomenon. Many women on twitter and other platforms embraced this decision as a sign of progression and strengthening equality.
However, there have been counterarguments across this decision causing the turbidity of controversy. Some have said, and I quote, that this decision is “exactly what ghettoizes women and strengthens biological determinism.” Counterarguments state that this initiative turns a normal biological experience into a monumental event and reverses the fight of gendering. And also they “cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave”(How dare you cancel the launch for a little cramp?)
Arguments were also posed stating that period leave takes society back to the stone ages. Because all those women, right from Eve, did menstruate and sucked it up. People bleed, life goes on, right?
To the latter arguments, people spoke out saying that all those who do menstruate, do so differently as individuals have different bodies. Period days aren’t all jumping around and happy-go-lucky as ads show. As for most, period symptoms range from your stomach becoming a void where the only thing you feel is eternal hunger to being curled up on the floor with the feeling of knives stabbing your abdomen like you’re a pin cushion and a lot in between. But for some, period symptoms elevate for the worse and prove detrimental to health – like in conditions as endometriosis and adenomyosis. And with this notion of ‘sucking it up’, many conditions go undiagnosed.
Equality, between men and women, doesn’t mean treating everyone the exact same way. It means making sure that both men and women have equal access to resources, opportunities, and power in their workplace. By not inculcating period leave, you force women to choose every time they need to take a day off owing to cramps/heavy flow/hormone-induced severe mood swings/any other nightmarish menstrual symptom- Can I afford to take this day off? What if I fall sick this month? What if I have to rush back home anytime soon?
In countries like Japan where such policies were introduced decades ago, it’s been found that the majority of the women protected by such a policy hardly use all days of their period leave and definitely do not take advantage of this clemency, as many trolls on twitter speculated. The women who need it use it. Jokes about women using such days to ‘go on holidays’ or ‘have sex with men’ are just that; jokes. No woman would choose to be seen as a flaky, half-hearted worker.
For those who then doubt the relevance of the female co-worker, simple empathy is the only answer. Empathise with the co-worker who deserves the job and salary as much as you do, but suffers for almost a week every month every year, unlike you.
Zomato is one of the few companies that initiated a bold move in handling an old taboo, slowly pulling the stigmatic threads of menstruation woven into culture and tradition. Amid the against’s and for’s, one thing stands clear – periods and their symptoms are a normal part of life and its effect ranges from individuals. There should be no shame for something that is biologically natural. Along with showing a step into progression, this initiative also raises awareness on menstruation that is long overdue. All those who menstruate have a right to be educated on what they will eventually go through, more than I did when I was ten years old.
Finally, it’s high time to stop wrapping pads up in newspapers.
Written by Bushra Tungekar for MTTN
Edited by Mihika Antonia Dean for MTTN
Featured image by Economic Times
Artwork by www.feminismindia.com