On August 8th, founder and CEO of Zomato, Deepinder Goyal announced in a note that all Zomato employees who menstruate are now entitled to paid period leave.
Stating that Zomato wanted to “foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance”, the leave policy was introduced to women and transgender persons, who are now allowed 10 days extra paid leave a year. Employees can avail of one period leave for each menstrual cycle.
“Zomato understands that men and women are born with different biological realities. It is our job to make sure that we make room for our biological needs, while not lowering the bar for the quality of our work and the impact that we create,” the note said. Employees have been encouraged to inform people in internal groups or emails that they are on their period leave for the day in order to remove the stigma associated with menstruation. In the case of “unnecessary harassment or distasteful comments” regarding availing period leave, employees have been directed to report to the POSH committee at Zomato.
The note ended with a message for male employees specifically –
“…This is a part of life, and while we don’t fully understand what women go through, we need to trust them when they say they need to rest this out.”
Zomato’s period leave policy opened doors to more debate on women’s bodies…by men
Zomato’s period leave policy is a positive step towards equality because it acknowledges that menstruation can be painful for several women – cramps, bloating, headaches, and nausea are just the tip of the iceberg for many. This policy would be even more beneficial to women suffering from dysmenorrhea, a more severe form of menstrual cramps that can hinder functioning. Other conditions related to menstruation include Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), all of which affect the menstruator’s ability to function normally.
But as with all things concerning women’s bodies, several men had a problem with it.
Many men complained that this was ‘special treatment’ which could hold back women’s progress in the workplace, while others complained that women don’t have it bad, as cramps can be eliminated with exercise. Some others even went on to ask for leaves for men so that they could take care of their wives and girlfriends during those days, as a way to achieve ‘true equality’.
And, of course, some were convinced that this was a bad idea because women are liars.
No, a period leave should not be compensated as sick leave
In 2017, Culture Machine, a Mumbai-based media house announced a period leave policy for its female employees. However, it received a lukewarm response – employees said that they were worried about backlash because women were already entitled to maternity leave. Many arguments continue to be made against the policy, with people wondering why periods can’t be covered in the sick leave system.
Sick leaves are occasional leaves that are granted when a person, irrespective of gender, can’t function due to a sickness. Menstruation is not an occasional occurrence but a regular and cyclic one, which can deplete a woman’s sick leave allowance if availed of regularly.
The feeling of discomfort due to a fever during the monsoon season is not the same as feeling discomfort two or three days a month, every month.
Period leave policies are a small step towards women’s inclusion in the workforce
It’s no news that women’s participation in the formal workforce is abysmally low. However, contrary to popular belief (on Twitter), a period leave policy is not – and will not – cause it to get worse. In fact, it’ll most likely do the opposite.
The formal workforce is designed in a way that excludes women – long work hours that are directly equated with merit and productivity, lack of a work-life balance, and few to no child care facilities.
These factors are the biggest reasons why women drop out of the workforce. For women who do stay on, the glass ceiling comes into the picture – a systemic problem that impedes women’s ability to move up the career ladder. Women in management positions often find themselves in situations where they have to reconsider starting their own families – the gap in work owing to maternity leave and the aforementioned lack of child care facilities discourages them from rejoining the workforce, should they choose to take a break.
Women’s ability to bear children and the unfair burden of domestic work on them makes them a liability in the eyes of most employers, which is a frustrating reality women have to deal with – it’s considered more profitable to hire men because they are socially sanctioned off child care duties.
Zomato’s period leave policy is one way of introducing the male-dominated workforce to women-friendly policies – they help carve the workforce to accommodate the differences that women bring with them, and encourage them to be a part of it. These policies also, by extension, can encourage organisations to rethink the entire structure of how they work in terms of work hours, leaves, working style and conditions.
The formal workforce is an extremely masculine space, which explains the debate on period leave policies for women. This warrants a cultural, systemic change – company policies are just the beginning.
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