NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A digital media company in India is offering "menstrual leave" to female staff as part of its official policy and calling on authorities to legislate to give all working women the option of taking the first day of their period off work.
Mumbai-based Culture Machine said the new policy was a bid to fight social taboos around menstruation in India, where millions of women and girls face social discrimination, health problems and low self-esteem due to a lack of awareness.
The firm, which has 75 female workers, announced the policy in a video on YouTube this month. It features female employees talking the first day of their periods and reacting to the news of the company's "First Day of Period (FOP) Leave" policy.
"The first day is obviously not so comfortable for most," said Devleena S. Majumdar, president of Human Resources at Culture Machine, in the video. "So we felt it was time we face reality. This is not an embarrassment, this is a part of life."
In India, menstruation is rarely discussed openly and this can leave girls and women ignorant about the issue and subject to social exclusion due to age-old social beliefs.
Menstruating women and girls are considered unclean and impure and are subjected to discrimination during their periods when, for example, they may not be allowed to go to the temple, or prepare and touch certain food.
In the video, which has had over 150,000 views since July 3, Culture Machine's female staff talk of their experiences at work on the first day of their periods and the taboos and lack of understanding around the issue of menstruation.
"Sometimes with male bosses, you have to be a little discreet," said one female employee.
The company has also launched a petition on change.org calling on India's Minister for Women Maneka Gandhi and the Minister for Human Resources Prakash Javadekar to adopt a similar policy for all women irrespective of where they work.
The petition, which has attracted over 25,000 signatures in a week, asks why menstruation be kept hidden and why women have to show up for work despite the pain and use "silly excuses".
"We, the women at Culture Machine's Blush, have the privilege, if we may call it that, to apply for a leave on the day when the discomfort is unmanageable, no questions asked," said the petition.
"Now, we want the rest of the women in India to have the same right."
Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org