The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is particularly close to the heart of policy-makers in Bangladesh, for it owes its existence to the persistent efforts made by former president of Bangladesh, Hussain Muhammad Ershad.
Despite much fanfare, the SAARC has been a relatively inactive regional body on account of multiple factors, the most prominent being the hostility between India and Pakistan.
However, there still exist certain sectors relating to human development, protection, and gender-based rights -- where there remains significant scope for co-operation. We advocate the convention passed by SAARC in regards to achieving certain universal humanitarian objectives. This convention can be on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The proposed convention wouldn’t be obligatory to follow but states ought to consider it and attempt to achieve the principles.
One aspect of this proposed convention, which should be part of a future SAARC declaration of human rights, stood out.
Monthly struggle at work (for women)
Bleeding on the job has been, indiscriminately, considered an “emotional ordeal.” Women in a variety of professions have experienced a similarly unpleasant situation. The shame and anxiety surrounding menstruation often make the issue hard to talk about. Menstruation for many women, is a very stressful affair.
According to research conducted by obstetrics and gynecology specialist,Mandi Wilson from the USA Center for Women, a significant number of women experience painful pelvic inflammation during menstruation. As a result of this, women often have to take certain anti-inflammatory or anti-coagulant medications to relieve the pain.
A study by Nancy Kramer brought to light hundreds of anecdotes from women who have suffered humiliating and uncomfortable circumstances related to menstruation at work. Her study also highlighted the lack of concentration women face on account of a combination of physical and psychological pressures.
Furthermore, the findings of a survey conducted by the fertility app Clue shows that 68%of women don’t feel comfortable speaking about their menstruation to men at work, which in turn negatively impacts a woman’s workday.
Due to these reasons, amongst others, women often quit their jobs. This disruptive phenomenon adversely affects the productivity of a woman. In developing countries, like ours, where women often don’t have access to effective menstruation products, an enormous amount of productivity is lost.
Given the complexity of the female anatomy and the intense pain they have to suffer, availing leave during menstruation or at least permission to work from home must be a matter of right
International efforts to address period at work
On July 2016, the state of New York made history by passing a law that ensures that girls and women in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities have access to menstrual products. Meanwhile, 15 of the 40 states of the United States that still had a “tampon tax” have moved to do away with it.
A private member’s bill titled the Menstruation Benefits Bill, 2017 was tabled in the Indian Parliament this Winter Session. The bill intends to provide two days of paid menstrual leave every month to public and private sector female employees. The benefits are also extended to female students of Class VIII and above in recognized government schools. The bill also seeks to provide better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation.
The Indian State of Bihar has entitled special leave for women for two days since 1992. Although not explicitly referred to as the menstruation leave, its real intent has been towards providing relief to women.
Historically, countries in the SAARC region have witnessed vibrant liberalism. A girls’ school in the Indian State of Kerala granted its students menstrual leave as early as 1912. This financial year, a couple of companies in India have individually introduced the policy of paid menstrual leave for their female employees.
Interestingly, the history of paid menstrual leave goes back to times as early as the World War II.
Countries like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan have been far-sighted and have been providing female employees with menstrual leave as an entitlement. Italy has also proposed a bill on paid menstrual leave.
The way forward
According to University College London’s research, period pain can at times, in severe cases, be as “bad as having a heart attack.” Given the complexity of the female anatomy and the intense pain they have to suffer, availing leave during menstruation or at least permission to work from home must be a matter of right.
We believe that instead of women having to adjust to fit workplaces designed for men, workplaces need to be adjusted and transformed to fit women to enable a stress-free environment at work.
Shooha Tabil is a Climate Leader at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Aditya Manubarwala is a Trainee Solicitor based in Mumbai. Aditya Manubarwala has been an Attaché to the Office of the Speaker of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. He is currently working towards framing a draft SAARC Convention of Human Rights.