Menstrual Rights violations in the Workplace — A Media Review
Menstruation is one of the most personal experiences that anyone can have with their body, unfortunately, this experience is influenced and even deeply affected by one’s association with different private and public spaces — school, home, travel, work, etc. In order to understand this complicated relationship and its effects on one’s basic human rights, it is essential to examine where the experience in each of these spaces becomes unhealthy and violative, let alone nurturing/enabling.
Menstrual Rights Violations at the Workplace:
In Tamil Nadu, high-value garment industry leaders are prescribing unlabelled medication to factory workers who complained of menstrual cramps. This is done without disclosing the components in the medication or the lasting risks involved.
In another instance, sugarcane workers are forced into getting hysterectomies because it's a day's wage pitted against period leave.
We look beyond the personal and onto the media to validate our own experiences and to begin research that could inform policy reform or any other kind of intervention. Then, without a doubt, the media’s role becomes crucial in giving voice to such concerns and speaking truth to power while centering basic human rights and dignity at the center.
How is the Indian media doing in this regard?
Before you jump into the detailed review, here’s a gist of the coverage we’ve seen and the gaps in it.
Much of the media coverage dwells on the need for period leave and captures the public’s reaction to it. While some highlight the lack of legal provision for period leaves, some offer alternatives like providing WFH provisions for menstruating staff. You will also find articles reporting MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet advocating for menstrual rights and the Twitter backlash that followed.
As the media continues to report, analyze and criticize the lack of period leaves, it is crucial to situate these stories within the menstrual discrimination and exclusion framework. The lack of period leave is a systemic disadvantage borne by menstruating persons.
In addition to this gap, articles talk about period leaves as a stand-alone intervention towards menstrual equity at the workplace, while it is a part of a larger ecosystem that needs to be established at the workplace. Some of the other contributing elements are flexible working hours, menstruator friendly — inclusive infrastructure (comfortable chairs, resting rooms, medical facilities within the workplace), clean and accessible toilets, sensitive and aware colleagues.
While the above-mentioned measures can be aspirational for formal workplaces, as we have seen above, how can one intervene/improve in the realities of the menstrual violations at the informal workplace?
The media, in addition to reporting on gruesome instances, must speak to academicians, policy experts to understand how the government can intervene.
The Case For Menstrual Leave:
There has been much uproar about the justification of whether the policy of menstrual leave is a necessity or a disservice for menstruators. To mandate work from a menstruator who is debilitated by work.
The Discourse In India:
Femina — Should Menstrual leave be made mandatory?
- No legal provision for menstruators to obtain leave in India; a Menstruation benefit bill was tabled but was not passed in the Lok Sabha
- Suggests that the option to WFH/leave for menstruators every month should be provided by every company as policy.
- Menstruators find it difficult to talk about their periods with their male colleagues or bosses perpetuating distress
- Few are of the opinion that having such a policy is discriminatory towards the non-menstruating employees
The New Indian Express — Menstrual Hygiene Day: Changing mindsets with ‘period leave’
- At organisation Paree, there is a provision for 1 Day period leave/ wfh for menstruating employees, which they can avail at will
The Hindu Business Line — India Needs a Menstrual Leave Policy
- Need for WFH/ leave policy for menstruators who deal with debilitating pain during their cycle and workplaces need to be cognizant
- Proposes that workspaces should be more participative and gender-sensitive to help all the employees perform to their best abilities
- Policies for menstruators in different countries and also in Bihar where it is mandatory to offer two days of additional leave every month.
The Print — ‘Absurd, disservice‘ — how women are reacting to Tharoor’s petition on menstrual leave
- MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet advocating for menstrual rights in the workplace was met with negative reactions from Barkha Dutt, Sharmistha Mukherjee and Shama Mohamed, among others
- It is evident that, even for ‘feminists’ working when menstruating is perceived as an act of resilience rather than compulsion
Inc42 — Why Equal Healthcare Access Is The Key To Boosting Women’s Workplace Participation
- Healthcare of menstruators have been considered a taboo, hence there has not been much knowledge and information about menstrual hygiene
- Inadequate healthcare facilities for menstruators prime reason for less participation in the workforce.
- Startups help in bridging the gap between the gender gap in the workforce, by providing proper healthcare facilities.
The Discourse Beyond India:
Marie Claire: Could your Period get you fired?
Makes the case for —
- Increasing access to menstrual products and to increase participation of menstruators
- Removing the stigma that taking a menstrual leave makes a menstruating employee incompetent
- Leveraging women’s cycles by allocating adequate assignments during the efficient period of the menstrual cycle.
Time — This woman was fired for heavy period leak
- Cases of workplace discrimination on the grounds of menstruation taken lightly
- Employee was issued notice for starting the period and leaking through the clothes on office chair
- The US court/ SC dismissing such cases on the grounds that they do not violate any laws of sex based discrimination
ABC — Japanese store reviews plan for staff to wear menstruation badges after public outcry
- Menstruating employees were made to wear badges declaring their period, which was aimed at gaining sympathy
- Management was forced to reconsider the act after severe backlash from the public considering harassment cases have been on the rise
What it means to be working amid the Coronavirus outbreak
The Discourse In India:
Pune Mirror — No arrangements for menstrual hygiene, rue residents, female staff
- The ration kits provided to the women living in hotspots have no sanitary pads
- The female doctors and nurses, have no access to menstruation management kits or hygienic places to change their pads
Outlook India — AIIMS Nurses’ Union protest over working condition; 329 workers contracted COVID-19 so far
- No adequate facility for women to manage their periods as they cannot take off their PPE kits once they start working.
The Discourse Beyond India:
NY Times ( China ) — Shaved Heads, Adult Diapers: Life as a nurse in coronavirus outbreak
- No availability of menstrual products to manage periods
- Difficulty managing periods because of protective suits that cannot be taken off
- Uncooperative seniors/ officials, as they did not take into consideration women’s menstrual necessities and when asked for it they blamed them and said they were not motivated enough.
South China Morning Post — How China’s coronavirus health care workers exposed the taboo on menstruation
- Menstruating doctors and nurses at the frontline in China are also battling menstrual taboos
- The risk of being affected by a UTI, due to unmanaged period
- Hospitals not allowing donations of menstrual products for women as a part of healthcare supplies
- Attitude of men and the taboos associated with menstruation in the society, and the impact of glorification of a menstruators sacrifice adding to the patriarchal system
Health and body violations
The Discourse in India:
Youth Ki Awaaz — Give the women in Beed the right to bleed and be
- Exploitation of menstruating migrant laborers by their commissioners and doctors who perform hysterectomies on them and take out their uterus
- Menstruators are not provided with right information about the results it will have on their bodies
BBC (Surat) — Indian women ‘forced into gynaecological tests’ to prove work fitness
- Gynaecological tests to check if the doctors are pregnant or not
- Invasive practice to check the physical health conducted in a highly deplorable manner
BBC (Maharahstra/Tamil Nadu) — Why are menstruating women in India removing their wombs?
- Menstruators in Beed go through a surgical procedure to remove their uterus, highest number of cases in the state in the last 3 years
- Menstruators have to work tirelessly on the the fields to cut cane and if they miss a day’s work they have to pay a fine
- The hygiene is not maintained and as they live next to the fields, they have no access to proper toilets, also when getting the surgery the doctors do not inform them of the physical implication it may have
- Menstruators working in Tamil Nadu’s garment industry were give unsolicited medicines for periods, without any doctors authorization
- The drugs caused mental and physical complications to the menstruators.
- The state governments have taken a notice of the matter and are trying to take utmost precautions that such cases are avoided in the future.
Mumbai Mirror (Maharashtra) — Beed women demand justice for lost wombs
- At a women’s conference by a NGO to discuss the issue of forced hysterectomies done by doctors on the pretext of cancer
- In Beed, menstruators from financially poor backgrounds work as sugarcane cutters in the fields, and they lose about four to five days of wages due to menstruation
- These hysterectomies have led to more pain in their bodies, and find it harder to work and have to spend more on the medication to stop the pain
The Indian Express (Bhuj, Gujarat) — Gujarat: 66 Bhuj college students made to strip for menstrual check, principal booked
- Menstruators asked to strip down in Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute to prove they were not on their periods
- Police booked the principal, hostel coordinator, hostel supervisor and peon.
- Discriminatory practices followed where in every menstruator is asked to disclose her menstrual date in a register and is asked to stay away from the main hostel premises in a dimly lit room
NDTV (Chandigarh) — Punjab Schoolgirls Allegedly Stripped For Sanitary Pad, Probe Ordered
- In a govt. school menstruators were asked to strip down to see who had left a used sanitary pad in the washroom
FOLLOW UP REPORT:
NDTV (Chandigarh) — Punjab Teachers Spot Used Sanitary Pad In Toilet, Allegedly Strip Girls
- Punjab CM took action against the teachers who stripped down menstruators in the school premises upon finding a used sanitary pad in the toilet
- Education Department Secretary was asked to make the investigations
India.com- Kochi strip search: The taboo subject of menstruating women and Indian culture
- Menstruators were asked to strip down to check if anyone of them was menstruating, as supervisors had found used sanitary pad lying in the washroom
- Women’s Commission in Kerala has ordered a probe into the incident
- Company shut down temporarily
The Discourse in India:
Feminism in India — The Menstruation Benefit Bill Proposes Two Days Menstrual Leave. Does This Help Women?
- Bill was proposed that menstruators working in public or private space should be provided with 2-day leave during their cycle
- On one hand people are saying that it should be mandated as some menstruators face debilitating pain
- On the other hand, people think that it is regressive and would lead to more gender bias
She The People — Critically Analysing Women’s Sexual, Reproductive & Menstrual Rights Bill ’18
- The bill proposed by Shashi Tharoor, propagates the idea of providing menstrual product for free to all the menstruators and access to water to eliminate the stigma
- The article argues on the points that only providing sanitary napkins is not sustainable solution as they are not environmentally friendly, and along with menstrual products right education is also required
- To destigmatize the problem of untouchability during the menstrual cycle, the bill should outlaw such practices.
The Discourse in India:
Feminism In India- How Difficult Is Menstrual Hygiene Management For Women Workers In Indian Textile Industry
- The big giants of the textile industry like H&M, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger employ factory workers in very poor conditions — unclean toilets, lack of clean consistent water access, few breaks.
- India employs 45.2 mil women in this industry, 60–70 percent of textile workers are women.
- Men in authority positions make it hard to stand up to, virtually no rights to association and unionisation.
The Discourse Beyond India:
Global Citizen (Multiple Countries) — Health Workers Around the World Are Calling for Period Products to Be Considered Essential PPE
Perspectives from across countries about experiences of health workers:
- “Due to stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the village where Acan lives, people cannot travel the over 9 miles necessary to buy menstrual products, even if they have money to buy them”
- Demand for govt to include menstrual products as part of PPE kits, one midwife bled through her PPE and quit fieldwork cause of shame.
The Independent (UK)- Women face discrimination over their periods at work: ‘It’s just an excuse to act like a b****’
- Carried out by a Chartered Institute of Personnel Development training specialist, the survey found around half said they faced significant stigma.
- Almost a third said co-workers did not take period pain seriously.
- More than one in 10 said they had been on the receiving end of negative comments about their periods while at work
- As per other studies, majorities said they would not be comfortable talking about menstruation at work, attend work even though they feel sick because of their period and are admittedly 33% less productive.
- Facilities: Over a quarter of respondents said they did not have sanitary bins at work, while almost one-third did not have constant access to a toilet.
Social Europe (London and EU) — Trade unions and mainstreaming menstrual awareness in the workplace
- Swedish Trade Unions — the lack of bathrooms is a reality at many workplaces within the construction sector. At some, there is a bathroom in place but it lacks running water.
- Menstruation must be mainstreamed (as in integrated) as a dimension in regular work on health and safety at the workplace.
- In Sweden, where employers have a legal responsibility to take on preventive actions against discrimination, menstrual mainstreaming applies to the work area of anti-discrimination as well.
- On a national level, unions should make sure that ombudspersons have knowledge about the ways in which the work environment can negatively affect the well-being of menstruators.
- For instance, a menstrual perspective could be integrated within union courses and informational materials targeting members, hence spreading knowledge to local safety representatives.
Fast Company (US) — Bleeding on the job: A Menstruation Investigation
- Menstruators have a difficult time managing their periods in public spaces as washrooms are not equipped with tampon/ pad dispensers or they are not filled up with the products
- Many startup are providing menstruators with help and products during their menstrual cycle
- Different brands that have launched products to help menstruators be discreet about their periods and manage them better
Written by Pratyusha Varanasi with Inputs from Subhiksha Manoj and Sathyapriya