At a time when a debate rages on about the need to provide menstrual leave, records show that a girls school in Kerala had extended the relief to its students more than a century ago itself. Advocates cheered the news insisting that should put a big “period” on all arguments against paid menstrual leave for workers and school accommodations.
The government girls school in Tripunithura, located in the erstwhile princely state of Cochin (present Ernakulam district), had in 1912 allowed students to take ‘period leave’ during their annual examination and permitted them to write it later.
According to “Kerala in the 19th Century”, written by historian P Bhaskaranunni, the head-teacher of the school had approached the higher-ups and requested granting of leave as women teachers and students were normally absent during the time. Published by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi in 1988, the book is considered to be an authentic study on various aspects of the state during the 19th and early 20th century.
As per the then education laws, 300 days of attendance was necessary for students to appear for the annual examinations, the book said.
“Tests were conducted regularly and it was necessary for students to appear for the tests. But, it had become an issue in Tripunithura girls school where students and women teachers would not come during the time of menstruation,” it said. In view of their frequent absence, school headmaster V P Vishwanatha Iyer had approached the ‘school inspector’ in Thrissur and put forward the issue before him on January 19, 1912.
A favourable decision was taken by the authorities in this regard within the next five days, according to the book. “The education director had issued an order on January 24 stating that those students who were unable to write annual exams during the time of menstruation should be permitted to write the same on another occasion,” the book said.
It is interesting to note that the head teacher, who belonged to an upper class community, had approached the authorities to grant period leave to his students at a time when the subject was a taboo.
Photo: Sleeping woman
Over a century later, the issue has had its echo in the Kerala Assembly during the ongoing session with Congress legislator K S Sabarinathan urging the state government to consider granting menstrual leave to its employees. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had assured that the government would formulate a common stand after considering various aspects of the issue. pti
Nigeria Circle is not aware of any law or policy in Nigeria or any businesses in Nigeria that support menstrual leave. While the initiative may be non existent in Nigeria, the concept is not uncommon globally. Here are some countries that already have a similar policy
How Menstrual Leave works around the world
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: Japan
According to Japan’s 1947 Labor Standards Law, women suffering from painful periods or those whose jobs might aggravate period pain are allowed seirikyuuka (meaning physiological leave). The law was implemented in view of the limited sanitary facilities available for women at workplaces including factories, mines.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: Taiwan
Taiwan’s menstrual leave legislation is more recent. A 2013 amendment to the country’s Act of Gender Equality in Employment guarantees female workers three days of menstrual leave a year, in addition to the 30 days of half-paid sick leave allotted to all workers.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: China
Only three of the country’s 24 provinces — Anhui, Shanxi and Hubei — have menstrual leave in China. In the central Anhui Province, women workers are allowed to take one or two days off on production of a certificate from a legal medical institute or hospital.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world:Indonesia
Indonesian women are entitled to take two days a month of menstrual leave, though many companies simply ignore the law.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: South Korea
Menstrual leave came into force in South Korea in 2001. The policy has lately come under fire from Korea’s men’s rights activists, who, despite Korea’s heavily male-dominated work culture, see it as a form of discrimination. An experiment to give menstruation leave to university students ended in failure.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: Zambia
A programme titled Mother’s Day gives women a day off from work every month in the African country.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world:Nepal
One online shopping portal Sasto Deal introduced menstrual leave policy for women workers in 2016.
How Menstrual Leave works around the world: The west
Contrary to popular notions, menstrual leave has not been a major issue in the west. The idea was floated in Russia in 2013, and more recently Italy, but to no avail. In the UK, a company Coexist announced a policy to allow women to take time off during their periods. Nike has had menstrual leave in their code of conduct since 2007.
How effective is Menstrual Leave?
Wherever it has been implemented, menstrual leave has not proven to be very successful. For instance, women in Japan do not take advantage of the menstrual leave policy for a number of reasons. One professional woman worker told The Guardian newspaper, “If you take menstrual leave, you’re basically broadcasting to the entire office which days of the month you have your period.” Many women tend to use regular sick leave rather than availing of menstrual leave, the report said.
In an article in Global, Shanghai-based writer Yang Lan mentions that employees in China are evaluated and paid on the basis of their workload. “Workers have fixed responsibilities that they are required to fulfill. So if a woman takes menstrual leave, she will have to make up for lost hours, which will result in increased work pressure. Sure, women suffering from debilitating dysmenorrhea, a medically recognised pain in the pelvis that occurs during menstruation, should not be required to work. But the “bloody” fact is that accepting paid leave whenever a woman has cramps will ultimately do more harm than good for our cause, as it weakens us at the workplace,” she writes.
Doctor’s View Of Menstrual Leave
Just a normal physiological function. Surprisingly, doctors who spoke to Nigeria Circle on the principle of period leave said menstruation is just that time of the month and should be treated as a normal physiological function rather than as a sickness.
Nigeria Needs A Law for Menstrual Leave?
In Nigeria, the question of menstrual leave has never engaged policymakers’ attention. Nigeria presently has a policy of 16 weeks maternity leave that is 12 weeks after pregnancy (3 months) and the four weeks annual leave, negating Article 183 of the International Labour organization (ILO) which stipulates 18 weeks
Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Maternity Protection, an international Labour Organisation treaty. This treaty makes provision for employment security for pregnant and nursing mothers as it prohibits dismissal during pregnancy. It also makes provision for a guaranteed period of 16 weeks for maternity leave and also for female employees to return to the salary and posts they occupied before delivery. The convention has, however, not been domesticated by our National Assembly. Consequently, the treaty and its provisions are not applicable to Nigerian workers.
Giving menstrual leave to women would require making a separate law that applies to both public and private sectors. Legal experts tell Nigeria Circle that the law would have to be comprehensive enough to plug any loopholes that might open up.
The legislative feasibility of menstrual leave has been demonstrated in at least a few countries which have separate enactments for it lest it become a matter of selective indulgence by a few employers. A menstrual cycle law will go a long way in encouraging a work-life balance for the Nigerian woman