Consultations on providing menstrual leave in Karnataka under way

Committee comprises legal and medical experts, psychologist, representatives from industries and trade unions, besides Labour Department officials.

Updated - June 18, 2024 12:18 pm IST

Published - June 17, 2024 09:40 pm IST - Bengaluru

Multiple women members on the committee expressed happiness that a discussion on menstrual leave has been encouraged by the government in Karnataka and it helps destigmatising menstruation.

Multiple women members on the committee expressed happiness that a discussion on menstrual leave has been encouraged by the government in Karnataka and it helps destigmatising menstruation. | Photo Credit: File photo

Amidst a national debate over making provision for menstrual leave, the Karnataka government has started consultation to provide one-day paid menstrual leave for those working in factories, information technology, garment sectors, and multi-national companies where several lakh women are employed.

In what is being seen as a progressive move that could lead to gender sensitive labour policy by many women activists, the consultation on the menstrual leave comes after former Union Minister Smriti Irani opposed the leave on the floor of the Rajya Sabha in December 2023, stating that it could lead to discrimination against women employees, which drew angry responses.

The Labour Department has set up an 18-member committee headed by Prof. Sapna Mohan, Head of the Department, School of Law in Christ University, to deliberate on and submit a report on the feasibility of making provision for menstrual leave in Karnataka. The committee comprises legal and medical experts, psychologist, representatives from industries and trade unions, besides Labour Department officials.

While one round of discussion has taken place already, the committee is set to meet this week again before presenting a report to the Labour Department. “Let the committee file its report. The government will consider it since there are pros and cons and financial implications,” Labour Minister Santhosh Lad, who set up the committee in January 2024, told The Hindu.

Pros and cons

Multiple women members on the committee expressed happiness that a discussion on menstrual leave has been encouraged by the government in Karnataka and it helps destigmatising menstruation. Another member said that the scope of the menstrual leave could be extended to government sector too, especially teachers, police personnel, home guards, anganwadi, and ASHA workers.

“There have been discussions about both pros and cons of introducing menstrual leave. Those against it have maintained that it could lead to discrimination against women and restrict employment opportunities. Some are citing the possible opposition from the industries over financial implications as this would entail 12 days paid leave a year along with other leaves such as earned leave and casual leave, besides public holidays,” a member on the committee said.

Suggestions have been that the leave could be made mandatory for employers to grant, but women could be allowed to choose whether to seek the facility or not, sources said. The menstrual leave, sources said, could come as a major benefit to over 4 lakh women in the garment sector in the State who get just 10 public holidays and a maximum of 15 earned leaves in a year.

Sources familiar with the development also said that though menstrual leave has been made mandatory in several countries, surveys in Japan and South Korea have shown that not all women in the workforce utilise it all the time. “In the Indian context, workers may not even approach the male supervisor for leave. In the South East Asian countries, the menstrual leave is essentially treated as ‘protected parenthood’ to prevent any possible impairment to reproductive capability. Earliest attempts on menstrual leave in Russia was due to workforce being predominantly women as men were enlisted in the armed forces due to wars,” a source said.

Sources said that the menstrual leave could also prevent “presenteeism”, where the employees come to work but remain unproductive due to physical and emotional discomfort owing to menstruation.

Much debated issue

In India, the issue of menstrual leave has been discussed informally for several decades now, but it is yet to make a big impact. Though Bihar, in 1992, was the earliest among the States to provide “biological leave” for two days per month to women government employees, including those on contract, and Kerala introduced menstrual leave for female students in universities in 2023, an attempt to introduce the Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2022, in Arunachal Pradesh Assembly by legislator Ninong Ering attracted angry reaction from other lawmakers, many of whom disparagingly called it an “unclean subject”.

Nationally, multiple recent attempts have failed to muster support. They include Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017, introduced by Mr. Ering, The Right to Menstrual Hygiene and Paid Leave Bill, 2019, introduced by Tamil Nadu MP M.S. Jothimani, and The Right of Women to Menstrual Leave and Free Access to Menstrual Health Products Bill, 2022, introduced by Kerala MP Hibi Eben.

In other places
Soviet Russia: Paid menstrual leave introduced in 1920s and revoked in 1927
Japan: Paid leave on request introduced in 1947
Indonesia: Paid leave on request for two days per month or additional payment for work on two days of menstrual cycle since 1948. Amended in 2003 making it subject to negotiation between employer and employees
Taiwan: Paid leave of three days per month on request since 2003
South Korea: Paid leave on request of one day per month since 1953
Zambia: Paid leave of one day per month
Spain: Three to five days of leave with doctor’s note
Bihar: Biological leave of two days per month for all women government employees, including contract workers since 1992
Kerala: Menstrual leave for female students in universities under Department of Higher Education since 2023
Source: All India Trade Union Congress
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