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Zomato and the ‘Period Leave’ Crisis

In an initiative designed at targeting period-related health complications, stigma, and shame, Zomato, an Indian food delivery startup introduced 'period leave' which gave all menstruating people up to 10 days of paid leave a year.

The policy is regarded as a spirited advance in a country like India which lacks basic sex education and where, according to UNICEF, 70% of those born as female aren’t even aware of the cycle till their first period, 71% of mothers consider it dirty and only a shocking 12% have access to sanitary napkins.

Deepinder Goyal, the founder and chief executive officer of the company has stated: "There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a 'period leave'. You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your ‘period leave’ for the day." He further went on to say, "This is a part of life". Now, it comes to be seen why 'a part of life' is subject to such heated debate and contention. Not surprisingly though, as this reaction is the kind that typically characterizes responses to issues faced by those socialized as women.

The concert of opposers constitutes both men and women, the inclusion of which makes it easier to resist the policy. Some contrarians condemned this as a move that heightens gender equality by granting room for rest endorsed by the workplace. Several have gone on to contend that since menstruation has never obstructed women from working in the past, it shouldn’t be a matter of concern now either. Furthermore, well-known journalist Barkha Dutt has stated that such a move would lead to the ghettoization of women at workplaces. It has also been labeled as discriminatory, and as an idea that will cause further stigmatization. Additionally, concerns about its misuse have also been raised.

An important point that seems to have been missed here is that women being treated like men is not the essence of what gender equality or feminism stands for. This intrinsically erases the lived experiences of those born and socialized as female. The basic definition of gender equality by the standards of feminism stands not only for the genders being treated as equals but also having the same social, economic, political, and cultural privileges. The goal of gender equality is to deconstruct the concept of the ‘universal male experience’, which regards women as divergent. Hence, recognizing the need for period leave does not contradict the principles of gender equality at all, but gives recognition to the menstrual cycle.

Additionally, comparing the period cycles of different people and the notion of them being ‘manageable’ for some invalidates the individual menstrual experiences of many others. The glorification of people who are able to get through periods without requiring painkillers and medical aid is hugely problematic because it erases the struggle of many who face a variety of complications. These complications are in actuality very common. Over 68% suffer severe period-related symptoms in India alone.

According to statistics provided in an article by NDTV, approximately 120 million menstruating adolescents in India face period related abnormalities, influencing their normal day to day activities. Around 60,000 cases of deaths due to cervical cancer are reported yearly from India, two-third of which are because of poor menstrual hygiene. Other health problems related to menstruation like anemia, prolonged or short periods, endometriosis which cause debilitating period pains, infections of reproductive tracts, PCOS, and more pose a great risk to mental and physical wellbeing.

Moreover, periods can be a huge source of crippling dysphoria experienced by transgender people which tremendously impacts their mental health, especially in a country like India where their rights are significantly marginalized. Granting leave can potentially save them much struggle. Besides, ghettoization and increased biases towards women and traditionally female processes is due to an inherent prejudice and not because of policies targeted at their biological requirements. The liability of possible discrimination must be placed on the organization and not on the menstruating person.

To add to that, it seems that there is a deep-rooted and problematic postulation that women will take advantage of certain facilities available to them and hence will misuse this policy. The baseless claims accusing many of fabricating instances of sexual assault and harassment is the epitome of this supposition. Strangely enough, such a point of contention hasn’t ever been raised concerning ‘sick leave’ which is infamous for its misuse.

Finally, looking at the pros and cons of 'period leave', it is safe to say the move will do more good than harm. To ensure this, employers will be required to put in an added effort, however, it will definitely increase productivity and raise awareness. Additionally, it will without a doubt foster a better mental and physical environment for those who menstruate and make the workplace a friendlier space for all.

Avnika Sinha

Delhi South '22

A History Major and a member of Kahkasha, the Dramatics Society Of Jesus and Mary College Wannabe rebel with way too many causes to yell about
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