For two days a month, I bleed profusely and can barely get out of bed. Walking to the bathroom from my bed makes every inch of my legs, back, and lower abdomen hurt. It hurts so much that on the first day of this ordeal, my legs quiver when I stand and I can’t even sit comfortably, let alone manage a regular day’s work. Because of this, I need painkillers which knock me out for the better part of a day. This monthly ordeal, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t get other illnesses. I still get the regular cold and cough, upset stomach, and any other illness meant to be covered by official sick leave. Because, despite my uterus being my worst enemy sometimes, I am still a regular human being.
There are millions of women who have similar or worse periods every month. This is why period leave is important. It’s not a privilege, it’s a necessity. Think of women who do labour-intensive jobs, and think of women who pass out with pain and land up in hospitals every month, and then make up your mind about period leave.
The period leave debate has resurfaced now because Zomato decided to give 10 days of period leave to the employees who need it. Ten days in a year though is enough for people, even some women, to go up in arms about how this will hamper gender equality at the workplace. If denial of a woman’s body and biological processes is bringing this skewed version of gender equality, we’re not for it. True equality cannot happen if we completely deny what a woman goes through every month and hold it against her where professional opportunities are concerned.
“The pain makes women strong”
I read a new term today — benevolent sexism. This is when we say things like women are more nurturing by nature or that women are stronger emotionally or some such rubbish. We’ve all faced this and brushed it aside. Some of us have even been proud of these “virtues” at some point. It’s not being kind to women if you say these things, you’re telling them what is expected of them and how they should behave. Period pain and the dismissal of it is similar.
“You’re a woman, what will you do when you go into labour?”
“Period pain is nothing, every woman goes through it. Just get on with your day and stop whining.”
Years of listening to versions of these lines, from doctors, bosses, and other women, made me work 10-11 hour days in absolute misery. Bleeding through clothes, unable to move from my desk, and feeling stabbing pains for hours without sleep-inducing painkillers. Why? I was supposed to be strong, right? And sick leave wasn’t an option anymore because I had sprained my foot the same year and needed time off. As women, since we’re told period pain is nothing, we also tend to save our sick leave for “something worse”. And no, not everyone can afford to take unpaid sick leave every month.
Women against period leave
It doesn’t help the feminist movement to have prominent women denounce the whole idea of period leave because they covered wars during their period.
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.
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) August 11, 2020
“Didn’t have pads, still carried on. Popped a painkiller and carried on”. Great that you could do that. You’re truly one of the blessed ones. The rest of us are not, and it should not be held against us. If Barkha Dutt needed a day off during her period, it would not have made her any less of a journalist. If it had, that’s a problem with the patriarchal system we live in. If women are denied opportunities in the armed forces because of period leave, it’s a problem with the armed forces, not the women who need a day or two in a month to deal with the organs playing havoc in their bodies. This systemic problem of using any excuse to deny women of rights and opportunities has to stop, and that is what feminism is all about.
Frankly, a company that does not hire someone bec they need a few hours of rest (and then also, only those who need it) for painful periods, would be a toxic workplace. How companies evolve in empathy is their responsibility, not women who are being asked to labour through pain.
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) August 11, 2020
Folks, period leave is like maternity leave. 1. Don’t take it if your period isn’t painful and 2. Don’t deny others’ pain because you’re such a pain free hero.
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) August 12, 2020
Getting rid of the shame around menstruation
Making period leave a regular thing in schools and workplaces also means getting rid of the stigma around menstruation. When it’s a part of regular, everyday life to say that someone is on period leave, it removes the taboo and shame around menstruation. Maybe then women won’t have to hide their pads every time they go to a public bathroom. Maybe then women won’t have to base their entire lives around hiding a part of their biology from the men in their lives.
So, if you are a true advocate for women’s rights and gender equality, why do you have such a huge problem with period leave?
Today one might not be able to wrap their head around #PeriodLeave, like many who protested against maternity leave. But someday in the future, it’ll be considered normal and basic. The journey for that day begins now, with the fire lit by a handful of women today. https://t.co/ILrRtpYywg
— Angellica Aribam (@AngellicAribam) August 11, 2020