What did the Supreme Court petition on menstrual pain leave ask for?

The petition seeks a direction to all Indian states to frame a policy allowing working women and female students to avail themselves of leave if they suffer from menstrual pain. Filed by lawyer Shailendra Mani Tripathi, the plea also seeks this provision under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. This act, as the name suggests, entitles women employees to fully paid wages during their absence from work for a certain period before and after childbirth.

How did the Supreme Court respond?

On February 24, a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala refused to entertain the petition. They noted that this is a policy matter and it would be appropriate for Tripathi to submit a representation to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development.

During the hearing of the petition, a law student named Anjale Patel filed a caveat saying the menstrual leave policy may backfire as it could discourage employers from hiring more women. The apex court also noted that the issue has several dimensions and there is need to formulate a policy.

Which was the first country to adopt a menstrual pain leave policy? Was it effective?

A research paper by Sally King, who works for UK-based non-profit ‘Menstrual Matters’, notes that Soviet Russia had, in the early 20th century, implemented menstrual leave policy in some sectors. However, this was later removed because it resulted in discrimination against the female workforce. The policy lasted only five years, as women found themselves replaced by men.

In 1947, Japan became the second country to implement a similar policy.

Which countries have adopted such policies in recent times?

In February 2023, Spain became the first European country to provide three to five days of menstrual leave. Women who experience disabling periods can apply for this leave with a supporting note from a doctor. Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Zambia have also adopted a menstrual leave policy, but they vary from each other.

While Japanese women who experience menstrual pain cannot be asked to turn up to work, in South Korea all women employees get an extra day off a month. In Vietnam, women are allowed a 30-minute break each day during their periods. In Taiwan, women can request a day off every month during periods at half-wage.

In Indonesia, there is no compulsion on women to work on the first two days of their periods, while Filipino women are allowed two days of menstrual leave each month. However, menstruation leave is not mandatory in any of these countries.

In 2017, Zambia became the first African nation to offer a day’s menstrual leave each month for all women workers, without need for a medical certificate or explanation to the employer.

Many other countries, too, have toyed with this idea for a while. A few years ago, Italy’s parliament disallowed the move, fearing discrimination against women.

Which states and companies in India offer menstrual leave?

Tripathi’s petition noted that Bihar and Kerala are the only Indian states that allow menstrual leave. Bihar’s policy was enacted in 1992, allowing women government employees two days of paid menstrual leave each month. In Kerala, the incumbent Pinarayi Vijayan government announced menstrual leave for university students in January 2023. The notification also said women students can appear for exams with 73 per cent attendance instead of the 75 per cent mandated by university rules.

In 2017, Gozoop and Culture Machine became the first private companies to offer menstrual leave. In August 2020, Zomato introduced a similar policy. “Starting today, all women (including transgender people) at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year,” said its Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal. Later, companies like Swiggy and BYJUS followed suit.

Why are some groups against menstrual leave policy?

Many feminists and social scientists share the fear that Patel expressed in her caveat. They think this may serve as an excuse for employers to not hire women. This is particularly concerning given India’s low rate of female labour force participation, which was 30.4 per cent in 1990, according to the World Bank, before it dropped to 19.23 per cent in 2021.