“….There is iron in her soul on those days. She smells like a gun”


More than half of the world’s population menstruates, which includes not only women but also transgender persons. Besides bleeding, such individuals suffer from other problems such as dysmenorrhea, poor coordination, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, etc. Menstruation is not much talked about in our society and hence related legislations are barely found or rarely cater to the needs of the hour.

A menstrual leave policy aims at providing 1 to 4 days leave for those menstruating individuals who suffer from unbearable period symptoms. While providing menstrual leave seems a great idea, a lot of women think it would make them look weak and would ultimately affect their work opportunities.

Years of fighting against patriarchy and oppression would go in vain as the society barely understands the concept of feminism – which is to give equal rights and opportunities to biologically different sexes.


Menstruation, or periods, is the regular discharge of blood and tissues from the inner lining of the uterus. Periods are not gender-specific, they are organ-specific. Every month the body of a vagina owner prepares itself for pregnancy and if no pregnancy occurs, it sheds the lining as blood. Periods usually start between the ages of 10-16 and last up to 50 years of age[1].

A recent article on menstrual hygiene shows half of the women population – 52% of the female population is of reproductive age, which is 26% of a total world population that is menstruating. Menstruation is a normal and healthy part of a vagina owner’s life. On average a woman menstruates for about 7 years during their lifetime[2].

Menstrual leave is a type of leave granted every month to menstruating individuals. Such leave can be paid or unpaid.

We are currently living in a transitional society where we find a lot of the population still lacking proper knowledge of menstruation and a lot of myths are associated with it. But at the same time, we also find a few who are sensitive about the same. In such conditions granting menstrual leaves can be a bit of a controversial topic. 



Besides bleeding continuously for 3 to 7 days, the menstruating individual faces other health problems. These problems might differ from person to person. They may also differ in terms of severity.

A lot of individuals suffer from cramps before and during periods. This is caused due to tightening and relaxing of the uterus. It causes enough pain to make a person take leave from work or school. The blood loss leads to the lowering of haemoglobin as well as causes fatigue.

Some symptoms also include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and headaches. Stress, illness, body weight, and diet are also affected during the menstrual cycle. Eating disorders are also common during periods. It may also lead to blood pressure fluctuation.

Workplace stress or school stress may worsen the situation and result in irregular or more painful periods.[3]



The menstrual leave policy entitles menstruating individuals a leave from work or school keeping in mind the traumatic conditions the individual is going through while menstruating.

Usually, there are two types of menstrual leaves –  Paid Menstrual Leave and Unpaid Menstrual Leave

The menstrual leave is similar to sick leave provided to employees. It helps the individual take time off from work for the days allotted specifically for periods. Certain days in a month, starting from 1 to 3 days, are granted as leave for those who could not work or attend schools during their periods.

A paid menstrual leave would encourage more menstruating individuals to work since such a leave provides wages as well as job security. It allows them to take up the job and take an income secured leave when it is needed.

Menstrual leave will also lead to an increase in work loyalty among menstruating workers. Worker productivity also increases as it allows the individuals to stay at home and take a rest and come back to work being more productive.

According to a study conducted in the USA, presenteeism( workers are required to be present at work and perform at a lower productivity rate when they are sick) has cost employers $160 billion a year. This cost is twice the cost of absenteeism which the employer would suffer[4]. Hence economically speaking presenteeism is worst than absenteeism and menstrual leave would not lead to the suffering of work and its productivity.

Besides providing a resting opportunity, a menstrual leave will also help destigmatize the concept of menstruation which as we all know is considered to be taboo. It will help people realize that periods are a regular biological process that happens every month as well as erase the ‘shame’ which it accompanies.

In 2019, a study in Health Care for Women International found that about 42% of adults in the USA said that they would support the menstrual leave policy[5].  

On this account, menstrual leave is not just beneficial for the ones who menstruate but also it helps increase work productivity and ultimately favours the economy of the establishment. Further, it is also valuable to society in general to destigmatize menstruation.

 “…..colleagues and I have availed it whenever necessary and truth to be told, there is no doubt that on days when the pain threshold is crossed, most commonly on first day, this leave comes as a huge respite to us” 

36-year-old employee at Culture Machine[6]

Recently on August 8, 2020, the founder and CEO of Zomato- an online restaurant guide and food ordering platform, introduced “period leaves for all women including transgender people”. Zomato now grants 10 days for period leaves in a year[7].  This news drew a lot of headlines and caught the attention of social media as well.

In addition to allowing a period leave, the company also requested the employees not to be ashamed to apply for a period leave and feel free to talk about the same within their internal groups and emails for granting leave. It also took steps so that no harassment or disrespectful comments from men and women for applying for period leave are faced.



Menstrual leave is not a modern phenomenon. It dates back to the 1920s. Several references were made during the 1920s and 1930s regarding protective legislation and female workers in the Soviet Union. These allowed women workers a specified number of days release from paid labour during menstruation[8].

Japan, Indonesia, and South Korea also had a menstrual leave policy during the Second World War and stretched a little after it. But such policies diminished over time as men returned from war and women were made to focus on family and childbearing and were not allowed to work. Furthermore, it was thought to be affecting men at work and seen as discrimination against them.

Current Situation

Not a lot of countries around the world have legislation to support menstrual leaves as such. It is still considered to be an extraneous issue and sometimes leads to a lot of controversies. However, a few countries do specifically mention and entitle women with menstrual leave by specifying it in their labour or employment laws.

Indonesia- The Labour Act in the country has expressly given the right to 2 days of menstrual leave every month[9].

South Korea – As per the Labour Standards Law, all female employees are granted menstrual leave and must get additional pay if they do not take the leave. One day a month of menstrual leave is granted[10].

Taiwan – A 3 days of menstrual leave per year is granted in addition to 30 days of sick leave. During these 3 days, half pay is allotted[11].

Japan – The Labour Standards Law in Japan expressly states that at the request of the woman who is menstruating, the employer must not allow her to work during those days. Though it provides for menstrual leave, it does not say anything about the payment of wages[12]

Zambia – All female employees are entitled to one day off at work every month without the need of producing a medical certificate or give any reasons to their employer. They call it ‘mother’s day’.[13]

However, an article by CNN Business shows that a Japanese government survey conducted in 2017 found that only 0.9% of female employees claim their period leave which was 26% in 1965. In South Korea, the usage in 2013 was 23.6% which has reduced to 19.7% in 2017[14]

A lot of reasons may have caused such depletion in numbers. Though enactments are made by the legislation of different countries, we still have little or no information on whether these leaves are granted by the employers in practice or even if granted, are women actually getting paid in case of paid leaves.

Especially while dealing with poor sections of society who cannot afford legal enforcement, the employers might exploit women by forcing them to work during their menstrual period though it is their right to take the day.

Additionally, a lot of instances have been noted where women themselves are not seen utilizing the leaves. One of the reasons may be the shame associated with menstruation. Most of the managers or employers are males and women feel uncomfortable addressing the reasons for utilizing their leave.

Another reason may be that not every woman is familiar with her rights when it comes to menstruation as it is not much talked about in our society. Not all of them know they are entitled to leaves and hence such leaves remain unutilized.


India – a place where menstruation is considered nothing more than a taboo and individuals are often discriminated believing it to be ‘impure’. People here are ignorant and misinformed. It is astonishing to find how sensitive Indians were back in the time and how awfully conservative and feeble-minded we have become with the passing of time.

According to a book named “Kerala in the 19th Century” the Government Girls School in Tripunithura (Chochin) in 1912 allowed its students to take a menstrual leave during their examination times and allowed them to write the paper later on. The struggle of granting period leave was held by the head-teacher of the school[15].  

This was the scenario 109 years ago. However, unfortunately now the school no longer provides for menstrual leave.

Speaking of legislation related to menstrual leave in the country, Bihar is the only state in India currently providing Menstrual Leave. Since 1992, the state legislature in its special leave section provides for two days of leave every month to female employees for ‘biological reasons’. It is in addition to all the other leaves for which the employee is eligible[16].

However, this leave is only for government female employees.

In November 2020, a plea was filed in Delhi High Court. The plea requested to grant paid period leave of four days to all women employees including daily wage, contractual and outsourced workers. It also asked for overtime allowance to menstruating women employees if they choose to work during their periods.

The plea also sought for granting 45 minutes of rest twice a day to women employees during menstruation and separate and clean toilets for women and free sanitary napkins 

A bench consisting of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan disposed of the case and asked the Centre and State Government to take a decision in accordance with law, rules, regulations and policies applicable to such matters as soon as possible.

The bench also stated menstruation as an ‘intrinsic part’ of human dignity and by not providing separate toilets and breaks, authorities are depriving employees of their human dignity.[17][18]

This is as far as we have been in providing menstrual leave in India. There is barely any legislation to support the concept of menstrual leave and where there is, we don’t find a clear mention stating ‘menstrual leave’. An indicating term ‘biological reasons’ is provided in the legislation.

The country is still ashamed to talk about menstruation and make laws about it.

Apart from the legislation, there are other corporations coming up in India which grant their menstruating employees leaves. A few examples include[19]

  • Zomato – A restaurant guide and food delivery
  • Culture Machine – One of the first companies to grant paid menstrual leave
  • Gozoop – Adopted menstrual leave and work from home policies
  • Mathrubhumi
  • Reliance mutual funds – Have considered providing menstrual leave which would help employees work more efficiently.

Taking a step further, a start-up in Bangalore named Horses Stable News has launched a more gender-responsive work policy in June 2020. The initiative called ‘Nay or Yay’ has been set in motion which provides for a 2 day paid leave to all menstruating women workers and offers Rs 250 as an allowance to ease through the stress during their menstrual cycles.

Furthermore, it grants one day leave for married men to stay at home and take care of their partner during their menstrual cycle. [20]  


In today’s day and age where women are trying to overcome the patriarchy and oppression that they have faced for ages, implementing a menstrual leave policy may lead to an increase in their problems. Society cannot stand the idea of those genders that have faced oppression for a long time, now decide to stand up for themselves.

We live in a world where people think of ‘feminism’ as a ‘bad thing’ and criticize it heavily. People see feminism as the exploitation of men by women which is not even close to what feminism means. Feminism is a belief in equality – not ‘sameness’. It opposes ranking one sex inferior just because it is biologically different.

Women have worked hard to prove themselves when the male-dominated world tried to suppress them by considering them ‘weak’. Now in the fast-changing and progressive society when a woman goes out for work or school, she not only faces the evils of patriarchy but also suffers from the ‘misinterpretation’ of the term feminism.

They fear calling themselves feminists. For women, it is like fleeing out of one bad situation and falling into another.

In such a society, if menstruating individuals were to be granted menstrual leaves, the society gets yet another chance to criticize and oppress them. Men would think of it as discrimination and exploitation; the employers would prefer giving jobs to men over menstruating individuals as he wants to increase employee productivity.

Providing menstrual leave will ultimately prove menstruating genders as weak and cause already existing oppression to increase.

When Zomato announced its Period Leave Policy in India, in no time it became a controversial topic in the country. Many were in favour of it and naming it a ‘trendsetter’. However many including those who menstruate were against such a policy.

The arguments that arose included –

  • Companies will be biased while hiring employees;
  • Such leave furthers the stereotype saying menstruation makes a person weak and unfit to work;
  • Though such policies have good intentions, they can actually harm women’s progress in the workplace;
  • Some women and transgender might not be comfortable announcing at the workplace about their monthly cycles.


A menstrual leave policy is beneficial for society in general and should not be opposed. The mentality of the society which does not leave a chance to suppress genders only because of different biological needs must be opposed. Society needs to understand that men and women must be considered equal in terms of opportunities they get but not in biological terms.

They deserve equal rights and equal opportunities at work and schools but this does not justify not catering to certain basic requirements affecting their health. 

It is clear that the notion of work suffering due to leaves of employees and that it would lead to employers preferring men over women is wrong and that menstrual leave policy not only is beneficial to the menstruating individuals but also increases work productivity and economy of the establishment.

Many private sectors have understood the same and are seen granting leaves to their employees rather than making them work less productively. Furthermore, companies like Horses Stable News, with its unique menstrual leave policy have helped in eliminating one of the major barriers by also entitling leave to men whose partners are going through such a stressful period to take care of them.   

However, we still don’t have adequate legislation which serves the menstrual needs of every menstruating individual.

Even in places where we find related legislations, proper implementation of the same is another major concern.

The laws already made are generally extended only to government employees. No legislation for private employees can be seen. Furthermore, such legislation majorly focus on gender-specific menstrual leaves. Periods are not gender-specific, they are organ-specific and all those who own vaginas must be addressed in the legislation entitling their leaves.

In addition to this, the major focus on available legislation is on working employees. There is barely any enactment available for school-going menstruating individuals. There has been no notice taken about their sufferings and how they have to miss their learning and education during their periods. Periods during examinations are another major issue to be focused on.

To conclude, it is still a long way for countries like India, the USA, Canada, etc to have well-established and suitable legislation which not only cater to the menstrual needs of individuals but also make sure such individuals don’t face any further discrimination while acquiring menstrual leave.   

By Dhanvi Joshi, 4th Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara