Under the guise of progress, a campaign in India is pushing for women to take a day off on the first day of their menstrual cycles. Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist, attacks the plan in an article for The Independent; she writes, “To my shock, the issue has become a major point of discussion. One media outlet has even adopted this harebrained policy for its female employees.”
Despite the nation’s economic growth, the rate of female employment in India shows that there is no room for this plan. With only 27 percent of the workforce consisting of women, such an inconvenient and patronizing rule would only serve as another excuse for employers to turn away more women in the hiring process. India ranks 120th among 131 nations for which data is available on women’s participation in job industries.
The idea of giving women the first day of their period off might at first seem accommodating and helpful. However, one must remember the longheld stigmas attached to menstruation, and the way that menstruation is frequently spun to paint women as the weaker and more unstable sex.
“Worse,” says Dutt in her article, “it reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women, a construct that women of my generation have spent years challenging.” Using periods to undermine women or discredit their emotions and passions is prevalent still today – recently and notably, President Trump made period-related comments about Megyn Kelly during his presidential campaign. When Kelly called Trump a misogynist for past remarks, Trump claimed that there was “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.”
This event, of course, took place in the United States, a nation that is considered more progressive when it comes to gender. In India, taboos over periods are strong enough already. In a CNN special article titled, “My country’s problem with menstruation,” by Anisha Bhavnani, India’s outdated ideas about periods are revealed on a personal level. Bhavnani recounts taking a field trip to a temple in the fifth grade and being humiliated by her teacher for walking into the temple while she was on her period. Similarly, she says, a friend’s family does not allow women into the kitchen to cook when they are menstruating. Women in India are treated as if their periods make them dirty.
This cultural attitude is seen on a political level as well. Sanitary pads are placed in the non-essential tax bracket in India, but many women can barely afford sanitary pads as they are and must resort to using cloths, dried leaves, newspapers, hay, or other cheap materials. This leads to infections and increases the risk for cervical cancer.
It’s clear that providing days off for menstruation is not a way to rectify these issues. If anything, this idea exacerbates the issue, continues the avoidance of the topic of periods, and promotes the trivialization of women as workers and as members of society.
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