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Rediff.com  » Getahead » It's time for a period of change at workplace

It's time for a period of change at workplace

August 04, 2017 10:14 IST

'Most women I know already take leave on the first day of their period.'
'But then we have no medical leaves left in case something more dire happens to us.'
'The effort to take this unorganised practice and make it more visible in the work place is an indication to working women everywhere: We see you and you matter,' says Shigorika Singh.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

A digital entertainment company in Mumbai called Culture Machine put their money where their mouth is.

As an employer of 75 women, they decided to give the First day Of Period (FOP) leave.

Men, and certain women, all over social media collectively lost it.

Most women I know already take leave on the first day of their period. But then we have no medical leaves left in case something more dire than Aunt Flo happens to us.

The effort to take this unorganised practice and make it more visible in the work place is an indication to working women everywhere: We see you and you matter.

It is sad (only because it is long overdue) that having menstrual leave policy is being considered 'progressive' when quite a lot of offices offer gym facilities, foosball tables, and pool tables for their employees to unwind.

The fact that most of these cater to male interests and you mostly see men hogging such tables is a different issue of male visibility at the work place.

They have been around in offices longer and so, have fought for their work-life balance, while women have to run from pillar to post to take care of 'women' things (get your eyebrows done if you have to appear in video content) before or after work hours.

Finally when we are talking about female concerns at the workplace some men are crying foul about this being differential treatment.

The answer to fitting into workplaces that are already tilted towards a patriarchal mindset is not to shed your femininity and become male for all intents and purposes.

It is to normalise femininity, talk about periods, pregnancy etc and not hide behind taboos.

Normalise periods, not the pain.

John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, is of the opinion that period pain is comparable to that of a heart attack.

Many general practitioners (and women writers looking for validation from the male peer group) dismiss period pain because there is a lack of understanding about it.

'Nobody thinks of menstrual cramps as a public health issue... men don't have it so it hasn't been given the centrality it should have,' says Professor Guillebaud.

There is plenty of funding for research on how men's sex lives are affected by being in a relationship with women suffering endometriosis (pelvic pain associated with menstruation), but not enough for research on endometriosis itself!

For all those crying 'science' and asking women to quantify their pain between normal periods (as if there is such a thing), dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and endometriosis, in a country where most of the time endometriosis is misdiagnosed, just shows what reality we inhabit.

There is clear discrimination at the workplace, forget war zones.

All things being equal, a man will still be preferred for the job over a woman contender just by virtue of his gender.

This can be negated by women bringing up women, by HR policies being inclusive and recognising that the way of doing things till now is not the only way of doing things effectively.

Contemporary policy should reflect contemporary reality, whether it is removing the 'luxury' tag on sanitary napkins or providing first day of period leave.

Biology is inherently different, but only policy can be unequal.

By claiming women may be 'better than that' some commentators such as Barkha Dutt perpetuate the myth that women have to be twice as good to get half the opportunities.

Ms Dutt and many other women may be better, but they shouldn't have to.

This is not what equality looks like; instead, this is homogenisation.

While it shall not be mandatory leave we need to caution women to stop propagating the sacrificial practice of will-slog-through-the-work-day-but-will-not-take-an-off.

This is office work, not war. An employee is more productive if they are not in pain.

The notion that since the previous generation of women fought and suffered through this pain so why can't the younger lot, is just an excuse to never evolve.

I would urge men and women to sign the petition on change.org and bring it to the attention of HR in your respective offices.

Represent female concerns in the workplace, and while we are at it can we increase the temperature on the air conditioning please: I am freezing.

Shigorika Singh
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