Women's health

‘First day of period’ leaves are a great first step. But offices need to become more period-friendly

A policy for menstrual leave must also account for practical implications to avoid the backlash that women might face.

A digital media company in Mumbai recently declared that they would offer “first day of period leave” or FOP leave for its women employees, triggering a lively debate on social media about whether we need menstruation leave policies for all working women across the country. While the open discussion about menstruation is welcome, there is much more to be considered when it comes to ensuring women employees’ well-being, starting with making workplaces more menstruation-friendly.

Women employees of the Mumbai company that has instituted the leave policy have started a petition to be submitted to the government asking that FOP leave be made government policy. But any policy should have a broader focus than just a single day’s leave.

A large number of women in India face menstrual disorders, like irregular bleeding, heavy bleeding and menstrual pain. Stressful work environments and commutes add to the pain and discomfort. Some women resort to tinkering with their menstrual cycles by using hormonal pills, possibly without medical supervision, to avoid menstruating on days of important tasks and meetings. Unsupervised use of hormonal pills leads to a lot of health complications which may be harmful in the long term. The option of a day’s leave every month for women to rest resting during their periods is welcome. However, for a policy on menstruation leave to work, policymakers must account for practical implications to avoid the backlash that women might face.

Corporate cultures are already somewhat reluctant to accommodate the needs of pregnant women despite India’s legal requirement to do so and despite the scientific evidence that child-care benefits do not negatively affect economic performance of companies. Studies have also shown that women living in developed nations with generous child-care benefits are not able to sustain their professional status, often coming back to contract-based lower paying jobs after maternity leave. Other studies also note that extending the child-care benefits demotivates companies from hiring women altogether or result in more women in the reproductive age being fired than other categories of workers. Holistic public health policies in developed nations do not completely ensure gender parity in the workforce, India, if it chooses to implement FOP leave as policy, must ensure that such leave will not be used as an excuse to disadvantage women in their professional lives.

Not just working women

While talking about FOP leave, let us also consider the needs and problems of adolescent girls attending schools. Several studies show that girls miss out schools during their menstruation as school infrastructure and environment are not menstruation-friendly. If adult women are able to avail of FOP leave, should adolescent girls be able to do so as well?

Many studies suggest that most adolescent girls and women do not like to disclose the fact that they are menstruating due to taboos associated with it. My own study among urban and rural adolescent girls and women had instances where educated, urban women reported that they did not feel comfortable discussing menstruation with male family members or friends. Hence, it is worth considering how privacy of women employees would be protected in scenarios where supervisors are men and the employees reporting to them are women.

Employers’ responsibilities

Offering FOP leave should not absolve employers from their responsibility of creating an environment conducive to menstruation. Hence, instead of demanding just an FOP leave, a policy which is primarily focused on a menstrual leave on the first day of the periods, we should ask for a more comprehensive sustainable menstruation policy that ensures that workplaces have small rest areas, good quality toilets, the availability of good quality sanitary products, dustbins as well as medications and a doctor on call. It is possible that such comprehensive changes about office spaces – as well as schools and public spaces – may negate the need many women feel to take leave during their periods.

During her pregnancy, when Sheryl Sandberg found that parking lots allotted to pregnant women were too far away for her to walk at the Google campus, she asked the company to create parking lots for pregnant women closer to the building. Similarly, asking for period leaves can be just one part of a multi-faceted solution to addressing the necessities of menstruation in the workplace. If we do not want women to be out of office on certain days of the month, we need to create offices that can fulfill the necessities of menstruating women. That will be a lasting solution.

The writer is a PhD scholar in social epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.