In India, 27% of the women work in the formal sector. On average, in the formal sector in India, nearly 53 lakh women are on their periods every day. This number could fill up more than 35,000 airplanes, and is more than the number of daily air travellers in India.
When we talk about the Menstrual Benefits Bill, and propose giving two days of leave to women on their periods, the first rebuttal we hear is that the bill would undo all that the fight for equality has achieved. This is a simply incorrect. Equality does not mean treating the genders equally in a blind fashion. Equality means to understand the difference in genders and thus to provide equal opportunities to both genders.
The other argument that is common is that such benefits would reduce the employment of women in the formal sector. Employers would be more keen to hire men than women. Again, there is disagreement. The Maternity Benefit Act of India is one of the most liberal maternity bills in the world. Under this Act, women are allowed 6 months of leave with full pay in case of pregnancy. Studies have shown that this promotes loyalty among employees who are availing the leave. The cost incurred by the employer in this regard is negligible. Similarly the Menstrual Benefits Bill will promote more women to join the workforce, knowing that their biological differences are being accounted for. Today India stands 120th of the 131 countries in terms of percentage of female employment and such measures would help improve our standing.
The urge here should be to promote the bill and identify ways to make it appeal to employers and employees. Giving tax cuts is one possible way. We should be looking to diversify our workforce by increasing female participation. Recognizing that women have gender-specific needs is a step in the right direction.
As we fight for this, remember that she bleeds.