Is the idea of offering a day off for a painful period gaining favor? : Goats and Soda In 2017, two Indian firms began offering workers a day off for a painful period — earning much praise but also some criticism. We wondered if this policy is gaining favor in India and beyond.

Whatever happened to the 'period day off' policy?

Hanna Barczyk for NPR
Hanna Barczyk for NPR
Hanna Barczyk for NPR

Back in 2017 we published an article with the headline: "Company in India gives women a day off if their period is painful." As we reported, a Mumbai media firm called Culture Machine "has announced that ... employees could take the first day of their period as a paid day off if they experience pain or discomfort. Some reactions have been supportive — and some not." The company hoped to end the stigma around open discussion of menstruation. A second company, GoZoop, followed suit.

But in cases where companies or countries have instituted a similar policy, some have expressed concerns – for example, would employees who ask for a day off for a painful period be regarded as less committed or valuable employees? And some said, why not just use a sick day if needed? We were curious: Has the idea of a day off for a painful period continued at this company and gained traction in other parts of the world?

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Culture Machine was acquired by another agency in 2019 that did not respond to queries about the period day off. But the second pioneering period day company GoZoop has continued the policy. And they're part of a growing trend.

Earlier this year, Spain became the first European country to institute a policy on period leave. "The days of ... going to work in pain are over," said Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero when the period proposal was first announced, granting 3 days off with a doctor's note as corroboration and the possibility of extending the leave to 5 days.

Similar policies exist in other countries, including China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Zambia and Mexico.

As for India, many big private companies have adopted a similar policy since 2017, including the food delivery services Zomato and Swiggy and the education technology company Byju's.

Another adoptee is BharatShakti, a Delhi-based media startup. In 2021, Neelanjana Banerjee, who heads content creation, proposed a period leave policy in her organization — and the boss said yes. "I never felt safe in sharing this problem with any of my superiors [in previous organizations] — most of my superiors have been men," she says. But, in her current job, she found that the company's head was more receptive.

Government bodies have also endorsed the idea. In January 2023, the Indian state of Kerala granted menstrual leaves in all state-run universities. The same month, a lawyer petitioned the country's highest court seeking menstrual leave for students and workers across India. The court dismissed the petition, saying it was the job of the lawmakers to institute such a policy and not the judiciary.

Two months later, a Parliamentary Committee urged lawmakers to consider enacting a law guaranteeing period leave. The policy "will have a positive impact on the female labor force participation rate in the formal sector and will help the gender dividend for inclusive and broad-based growth," it said.

The percentage of female employees in India is only about 9%, less than that of Pakistan's female labor rate and roughly in line with Afghanistan's before the 2021 Taliban takeover.

"It is an issue of wellness, trusting employees and gender equity, and these impact all of us," says Sudha Shashwati, a consultant psychologist and professor in Dehradun. "Paid menstrual leaves are a recognition that the workplace is not meant to be just for those who possess the male body."

Nikhil Naren, an assistant professor at Jindal Global Law School who specializes in competition law, says it is in the company's favor to grant period leave. "I think women forced to work when their body is not keeping up have higher chances of affecting their productivity," he says.

The policy has its share of detractors now just as it did when we first covered it. Back in 2017, journalist Barkha Dutt, wrote "First-day period leave may be dressed up as progressive, but it actually trivializes the feminist agenda for equal opportunity, especially in male-dominated professions," in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. "Worse, it reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women, a construct that women of my generation have spent years challenging."

But the idea of a period day off has strong supporters. Chetna Negandhi, director of brand communications for GoZoop, says: "When they announced this policy back in 2017, the first thought that came to my mind was that we were being heard and cared for. I can have the comfort and space I need on that day ... without compromising my professional responsibilities."