Periods. Menstruation. Menses. That time of the month. The flow of blood from the lining of the uterus. If you are already cringing or have lost interest in this article, ask yourself why, because you are part of the problem. A huge chunk of people in this world menstruates from anywhere between the ages of 7-60. It’s common knowledge, yet an open secret somehow. But do we also acknowledge the fact that a lot of menstruators also go through an immense amount of pain and stress every cycle? Also, Let’s all agree on making this conversation about menstruation with it being gender-neutral, yes? Not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women.
Let me paint you a picture without sparing any details, I’m gonna lay down some hard, cold truths - Periods are complex. It changes from body to body. It’s different for every menstruator out there. The process though is similar. We bleed every month for 3-7 days depending on each individual and other determining circumstances. While we bleed 6-80 ml or more each cycle, we also face a lot of hormonal changes which leads to us being emotional, stressed, anxious, our skin breaking out, our backs feeling like it is recovering from Olympic weight lifting, headaches with no explanation or cause, sore feet, nausea, our bodies punched down followed by mad fatigue and the star of the show, period cramps. It feels like your lower abdomen is being punched two hundred times per second for hours together, sometimes until we finally pass out from the pain. Sounds fun, don’t you think?
Now not everyone has all of the above symptoms. Some people have few of them, some have all, some have more and some have close to none but regardless, the time during our periods is draining on all of our bodies no matter what range and severity of symptoms one may face. If you’ve been watching those pad commercials and believe that the person running around joyously hitting unrealistic amounts of productivity during their period was true, I am sorry to burst your bubble here.
Imagine going through all of the above every month, going through intense dysmenorrhea (period pain) for close to a week every month and being expected to go about your day and work like you are completely okay, no questions asked. We can’t be entitled to period leaves but hey, of course, make all those PMS jokes at the expense of our health. I have truly painful, stressful periods. Every month the three days before my period during PMS (Premenstrual syndrome) and the first two days of my period is hard. Let me not downplay it, it’s horrific. On the first day of my period, I physically can’t get out of bed from dysmenorrhea. Most of us take a mad amount of painkillers to get through it so we can go to work and do our everyday routines and still struggle without resting, which is actually what our bodies need. The pain and health concerns we go through surrounding menstruation is so under-researched and more so, widely ignored. This is why period leaves are so important.
Some people argue that if we want equality, which means we get equal treatment at the workplace or outside, then our sex shouldn’t matter and hence period leaves don’t add up. Alright, but here’s the thing, we want equality, we want equal rights and opportunities, we want respect but this is a fundamental issue of diverse human bodies. Workplaces should not be shaped one-dimensionally without the context of diverse human bodies. This is about different bodies with varied abilities and that doesn’t mean biology is coming in the way of equality, it just means we have to cater to diverse human bodies in a more inclusive and empathetic way.
There is a school of thought that period leaves could or should cost us opportunities, would we do the same to someone who is going through a period of health concerns?
We are only human, taking period leaves doesn’t mean we are not good at our jobs, it doesn’t mean we are weak. Stop linking our success to our menstrual and reproductive health. Success doesn’t have to come only with working through throbbing pain and fatigue while popping painkillers in the fear of not being taken seriously in this heteronormative, patriarchal world. Any demand for equality and dignity while batting for period leaves has been looked at as shutting the door on ourselves. Being blind to human body diversity leads workplaces and others to be blind to social and other discrimination.
Not everyone who menstruates might want to take the leave but having the option makes all the difference because like I said at the beginning — periods are complex, the severity of the symptoms is different. Especially in a country like India, where the awareness, acceptance and access to reproductive and menstrual health are not at their best, menstrual leaves hold all the more significance.
It’s beyond time we stop asking menstruators to hide their periods, to downplay their pain and experiences - rather offer them real, social, inclusive support to help them adequately take care of themselves.
Period leaves shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be a right. You know we have earned it.
This is Varshini Raaj signing out.