CHENNAI: Waking up at the crack of dawn to fulfil household duties before commuting to work, standing long hours in classrooms and coping with a rumbunctious group of kids and teenagers, managing the hormonal overload and the excruciating pain and fatigue that comes with bleeding for a few days each month — one cannot stress enough the importance of monthly period leave.
One of the biggest concerns for working women during their periods, especially the teaching staff in educational institutions, is standing and teaching for long hours in classrooms. If they take leave, they risk taking a salary-cut especially if their leaves are not proven medical emergencies or stated in advance.
Teachers at government schools and private institutions have always lamented over the lack of proper regulation of period leave in schools.
Not a girl’s ‘usual problem’
Sarika J, a school teacher in Vadapalani, says that she suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and suffers from painful period cramps.
“I didn’t get my periods for about 88 days until the very next day after the public exam. Since my periods are often delayed, it’s very painful. I was hardly able to walk. But I had no other option than to go to work as I cannot afford the salary cut. There’s no system of paid period leave. It’s not just teaching staff. Even when students are absent because of cramps, our senior staff dismiss it as a ‘girl’s usual problem’ and instruct us to seek explanations,” says Sarika.
Explaining the issue, Vijaya B, another private school teacher from Anna Nagar, says that there are 7 classes in a day for 60 minutes each. “I’d have at least 5 classes. The other 2 hours, I’d be engaged with correction work. The schedule of working from 7 am to 5.30 pm on a period day is a nightmare. Pain, coupled with PMS and frustration, makes it really hard,” she rues.
Vijaya adds that a few private school authorities have come up with a new rule stating that if an individual takes more than two sudden leaves in a month, they’d have to incur loss of pay for two days. “How is this fair? There’s no importance given to our reproductive health. There are no clear regulations for period leave, despite whole day long schedules,” she points out.
Taboo for students
For young girls, menstruation can be an extremely stressful time of the month. The taboos associated with the subject make it difficult for them to access the right kind of information and understand the changes their bodies undergo during ‘that time of the month’.
“School authorities do not consider the fact that not all students menstruate the same way. Some sort of mental and emotional support goes a long way for teenagers. For instance, when a girl is absent for a certain sport or extra-curricular activity at school, no exemptions are given. It’s considered to be a ‘girl problem’ and hence trivialised,” said Vaishali J, professor at a private arts college in the city.
Rest and support crucial
Its high time that period leave is given at workplaces, especially in schools and colleges, opine obstetricians and gynaecologists.
“Not every woman has a similar experience during their periods. With increasing incidence of PCOS and other ailments affecting women’s reproductive health, we need to understand that they require at least a day’s rest during their periods. If they have fibroids, PCOS, etc, their symptoms are likely to worsen if adequate rest and nutrition is not given,” explains consultant gynaecologist Dr S Aravind.
However, painful periods are not exclusive to PCOS. You may experience dysmenorrhea (severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain during your period) if you have endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Period pain and discomforts, though common, are definitely not normal. Debilitating pain that’s consistent implies that an unhealthy condition, which requires medical attention, explains Kavya ecofeminist, menstrual therapist and educator.
“Medical leave to rest and insurance from workplace, and support from home to physically and mentally be away for treatment would help in alleviating anxiety that women experience during menstruation,” she adds. “There are different causes for the discomfort. For some, it could be less intense, just for a few hours, and caused due to hormonal imbalance. But for others, it could be very painful, and the cause can vary from PCOS or endometriosis to Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) etc. It can last longer than 1-2 days. So, depending on the condition, treatment and rest will vary. Let’s not forget, some of these conditions can be lifelong for some women.”
The social system in India also conditions women to disregard gynaecological issues unless it affects their fertility and directly impacts pregnancy. Conventional allopathy, most of the time, does not go beyond a few hormonal pills or contraceptives that just brings in an artificial period and kill the natural cycle.
Kavya concurs and adds that alternative therapies work well for many people, but there isn’t much awareness about it. “It’s gaining popularity but those among the grassroots are still unaware about them. Also, it requires you to be disciplined about food habits and the time you take those pills initially,” she elaborates.
Additionally, work timings cater towards a 24-hour male cycle – from dawn to dusk. Men’s hormonal cycle is high and more active in the morning but dips by evening.
“Our hormonal cycle is 21-35 days, and each woman has her own cycle length,” points out Kavya. “There are days or weeks when women are extra productive, and there are times when they need complete hibernation for more than a day. It might be difficult to chart these in our conventional timetables, but not impossible to give them the option of full rest on some days. An accountability across a month’s period can be perfect balancing act here.”
Women activists say that the topic of period leave can also initiate conversations on gender discrimination, pay gap, and shed light on the lack of accessibility to information on women’s reproductive health. However, the request from teachers and professors have not found any response from the school education or highereducation authorities in the State yet.