The idea of gender inclusivity in workplace is not just about hiring more women and people from the gender minority bracket. It is also about providing a safe and healthy work-environment for them, where their issues are not erased but addressed empathetically.
On August 11, I woke up to find that food aggregator company Zomato has included the policy of menstruation leave for those who menstruate. Irrespective of my anti-corporate political stance, this for me was indeed good news. Zomato has around 4,000 female bodied employees, which comprises of 35 per cent of their workforce. The employees are allowed to take 10 days of period leaves per year, and the company encourages for a stigma free period leave application.
We are aware of the fact that a large section of the people who menstruate do not experience hassle free periods. They experience heavy flow, hot flashes, terrible cramps, as a result of which working capacity reduces and the body demands rest.
I believe that inclusion of menstruation leave is a remarkable move to normalise the idea of periods. Apart from the physical inconveniences there also lies massive social fencing and prejudice. It is sad but true that menstruation is a huge taboo in our society. Majority of those who menstruate don’t have access to sensitised understanding and hygienic menstruation products like sanitary napkins and tampons. The sensitisation is terribly low even among the urban educated.
Many feel compelled to hide from their male friends and even family members the fact that they are on their periods. The issue becomes more problematic for home makers who do not have the option to take a break, and the family is incapable of functioning without their active participation. The question of impurity makes it even worse. Menstrual products are hidden with such caution as if buying them itself is a matter of shame.
This complete lack of empathy towards menstruation in our society is noteworthy. In this situation, letting the workplace know that one is menstruating isn’t an easy task for many. The idea of menstruation leave would help people go one step ahead to accept the normalcy of period and not strain themselves in hiding or forcing to work when the body isn’t cooperating.
This step of menstruation leave inclusion has been appreciated far and wide. People congratulated Zomato on social media for this path breaking move. Many expect that more organisations will come up with similar policies which would encourage more employees to work hassle free.
However the stance of noted journalist Barkha Dutt surprised me. In her tweet (from her official Twitter account @BDUTTA), the senior journalist wrote: “Sorry Zomato, as woke as your decision on #PeriodLeave is, this is exactly what ghettoizes women and strengthens biological determinism. We cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave. PLEASE”
Her tweet puts forward the idea that taking period leave would make females look unfit for serious jobs like military, air-force, space research, etc. She stands against the exception made for females.
In another tweet, Dutt mentioned that Period Leave is a hideous idea that turns “…normal biological experience into some sort of monumental event…” She added that the idea of period-leave genders us at the work place when we have fought for not be gendered.
I do not know which fight is she talking about, but I am sure that neither me, nor any of the intersectional feminist, queer feminist, Bahujan feminist, or Marxist feminist has ever fought for not to be gendered at workplace, but the other way round. We did not fight for erasure of our identity, because feminism is primarily identity politics. We wanted to be gendered but not be discriminated against because of our gender and biological identity. A healthy, inclusive workplace is not where people from different backgrounds and identities are hired simply to erase their problems, or see their problems as inadequacy.
Being equal does not mean being sad copies of men. Being productive is not synonymous with serving capitalism while overlooking personal health. If 10 days of optional period leaves for each female employee in an entire year – which is less than a day per month – affects the productivity of an organisation, then the organisation needs better planning and management, and the employees are definitely overworked. What’s even more unfortunate is how Dutt generalises menstruation with women. It mustn’t be unknown to her that neither do all women menstruate, nor are all menstruating people women. It is really unfortunate if a senior journalist like her forgets about being trans-inclusive in her narrative.
Good for Barkha Dutt if she has never faced cramps or pain so bad that her daily routine was affected, but that is not the reality of those suffering from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or endometriosis. The pain is often unbearable and some people do suffer from nausea, hot flashes, dizziness to an extent that they had to be hospitalised. Does Barkha Dutt think that having this biological condition make these people unemployable?
Several working class women from Maharashtra, who work as daily wage labourers, have been reported to have undergone hysterectomy because they couldn’t manage to not earn on the days of heavy and painful period. Is this the kind of work-culture that one must endorse?
I know of a lot of young females who have been told by gynaecologists that menstrual pain is “normal”, and that they are “overreacting”, instead of asking them to undergo proper diagnosis. For some it took decades to “prove” that they do have a medical condition, and they were not faking pain to seek attention. Some have been told by their families that they would have to “hide” their symptoms because well, period is not to be talked about openly. I know of females who have been refused trans-vaginal ultrasound because they are not married, as if “preserving” hymen as a seal to be broken by a man in future is far more important than treating or diagnosing a probable medical condition of a person who is screaming out in pain for years.
Unmarried females are often denied of hysterectomy despite not intending to have biological children – as if adult females are not really in charge of their bodies. In the end all they will end up is to be child-producing machines. That’s the normative.
I do not know of any school of feminism that hails personal experience of a person in privileged position (gynaecological health privilege in this case), to shun others not having that privilege, instead of understanding their issues with empathy. Even if any such form of feminism exists, the flag-bearers of discrimination in the name of woman-empowerment are not my comrades. In fact, they are yet another roadblock along the difficult path towards gender equality and empowerment.
[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]