by Ridhima Sharma
FEW INESCAPABLE FACTS ABOUT MENSTRUATION
In these seventy-four years of Independence, our country has achieved plethora of remarkable laurels and is incessantly stepping ahead towards the restructuring of the developing nation. In this revamped nation, every strata has been on high spirits and women is on the highest priority. But it is the ridicule of the progressed nation that our legal system didn’t legalise the menstruation concept in the columns of its policies as well as legislations.
Menstruation is process in a woman of discharging blood and other material from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until the menopause, except during pregnancy. It is an unavoidable biological activity which varies among different women according to their physiological conditions. In other words, menstruation is the natural part of the reproductive cycle in which blood from uterus exits through vagina.
Apart from aforementioned basic facts, there are some health issues related to menstruation which have to be suffered by women monthly. One study suggested that there may be an increased risk of urogenital infections, such as yeast infection, vaginosis or urinary tract infections, when women don’t change their menstrual supplies regularly. Moreover, some girls and women may experience abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding called menorrhagia, which could signal a hormonal imbalance or other concerns. Furthermore, excruciating pain or excessive bleeding during menstruation can also indicate reproductive problem such as endometriosis or fibroids. Apart from this, irregular, infrequent or prolonged periods can indicate disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome. The hormonal changes associated with menstrual cycle can cause physical and emotional symptoms called pre-menstrual syndrome such as bloating, headaches, depression, sadness, tension or anxiety, sweating, tender breasts, water retention, constipation and insomnia. Therefore, the menstruation policy framework need to be framed emergently to minimize the health-risks faced by the women diurnally.
TABOOS ASSOCIATED WITH MENSTRUATION
Taboos surrounding menstruation exclude women and girls from many social and cultural aspects. Culturally in many parts of India, menstruation is still considered to be dirty and impure. The origin of this myth dates back to Vedic times and is often been linked to Indra's slaying of vritras and for, it has been declared in the Veda that guilt of killing a Brahmana – murder appears every month as menstrual flow as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra's guilt.
In the hindu mythology, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating and she must be purified before she is allowed to return to daily chores of her life. Restriction regarding the puja room and kitchen is the major among the prohibitions. Moreover, according to study by Kumar A. Srivastava K., the women reported that during menstruation the body emits some specific smell which turns preserved food bad and thus, they are not allowed to touch sour foods like pickles. However, no scientific test has proved the menstruation to be food spoilage reason. Moreover, in some cultures women bury their clothes used during menstruation to prevent them being used by evil spirits. Thus, these are some social evils linked with menstruation which are still practiced in many cultures which are evidentiary the main cause of the backwardness of masses regarding the menstruation.
PROVISIONS OF MENSTRUATION BENEFITS BILL, 2017
Regarding the enforcement of the needful legislations for the menstruating women's secured lives, Ninong Ering, a member of parliament in Lok Sabha representing Andhra Pradesh in 2018, under the debate on the bill, said that, “ The bill seeks to provide women working in public and private sectors 2 days of paid menstrual leave every month as well as better facilities for the rest at the workplace during menstruation. The benefits would also be extended to female students of class 8th and above in the government recognised schools.” In the lieu of the provisions, he stated the examples of Kerala and Bihar under which a girls' school in Kerala had granted its students menstrual leave since 1912 and Bihar had provided special leave for women for 2 days since 1992 called 'Special Casual Leave'. Thus, the women should not be punished for their biological framework as this is not a choice that women make every month, so if someone finds it difficult to be at work for conditions not under their control, then they should be allowed to avail the leave. The first few companies to have implemented this practice were Mumbai-based Culture Machine and Gozzop companies followed by a Hyderabad-based market research firm. Moreover, zomato, food delivery company also gave female employees up to 10 days of paid leave per year for menstruation. Along with this, countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan has been providing paid menstrual leave back to World War -2. Though, the bill has waved the revolutionary thoughts into the people’s minds but still the much significant endeavours required to be done by the authoritative heads in the eradication of the evil from the society.
INTERPRETATION OF ANTAGONISTS
Though there are countless opinions in the favour of the bill, but along with this, there are some heads who protests against the bill. Some of them regarded the move as regressive, contending that such leave could allow for the means of gender bias in the hiring and working process as the men wouldn’t require this time-off and thus it would be ideal for company to hire them over women. Additionally, Deep Bajaj explains that since women’s cycles don’t all align, and because not all women experience same symptoms, it would defy logic to mandate a 2-day leave. It is conclusively argued that the concept of menstrual leave goes against constitutional right to equality and right to freedom. Therefore, these are some dominant judgments which has played the pivotal role in the non-enforcement of the bill since 3 years of its recommendation.
INFRINGEMENT OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity. When people can’t access safe and affecting means of managing their menstrual hygiene, they aren’t able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can turn menstruation into a time of deprivation and stigma, which can undermine their enjoyment of fundamental human rights. Moving forward, in regard to the notion that concept of menstrual leave is against the article 15(1), the supreme court held that special provision for women in article 15(3) means that provisions which state may make to improve women’s participation in all activities under the state’s control. Thus, the menstrual policies don’t infringe the article 15(1). Furthermore, relying on the Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan and others, the applicant has drawn intention of court to CEDAW and the fact that India is a party to this convention, it is the obligation of the state to eradicate taboos relating to menstruation based customs or traditions. The applicant also submitted that age-old practice of considering menstruating women as impure amounts to untouchability and stigmatizes them as lesser human beings and is therefore, violative of article 14, 15, 17 and 21 of Indian constitution. It is credible that the health and strength of worker is an integral facet of right to life, thus the bill required to be implemented immediately for the protection of the working women’s rights.
ENDEAVORS & STATISTICS & PROPOSED RECOMMENDATIONS
There is no question of doubt that our comprehensive legislative structure has introduced numerous influential provisions for the women’s empowerment according to socio-legal evolving structures such as the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and many more alike. But it is the sadistic notion that the menstruation has not been recognised in the columns of the legalistic provisions. Though, the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme has been organised, which teaches girls and communities about reproductive health; and programmes to end female genital mutilation, including the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme raised awareness of negative consequences, the practice can have on menstrual health have been taken placed; but still merely 58% of young Indian women use hygiene method of protection. Moreover, according to a systematic review of 88 studies, published in 2016, showed that not even half of all girls were aware of menstruation before its onset and surprisingly, the drugs were rarely provided by medical professionals and seamstresses, said they couldn’t afford to lose a day's wages on account of period pains. The report stated that in Tamil Nadu 79% and in Uttar Pradesh 66% and in Rajasthan 56% and 51% in West Bengal, girls and women were unaware of menstrual hygiene practices and 23% of girls drop out of school when they begin to menstruate. Therefore, resultantly, the menstruation policy is needed to be the principal focus of the policy makers and legalists as well as reformers for enlightenment of the authoritative heads and masses’ hearts through the inculcation of the cultivated and proficient facts about the menstruation.
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