Union women and child development (WCD) minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday said that menstruation is not a “handicap” and it shouldn’t warrant a specific policy for ‘paid leave.’
Irani was speaking in Rajya Sabha in response to a question asked by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member in the upper house Manoj Kumar Jha on the menstrual hygiene policy in the country.
‘As a menstruating woman, menstruation and the menstruation cycle is not a handicap, it’s a natural part of women’s life journey…We should not propose issues where women are denied equal opportunities just because somebody who does not menstruate has a particular viewpoint towards menstruation,’ she said.
Last week, responding to a question asked by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, Irani had told the Lok Sabha that there is ‘no proposal under the consideration of the government to make provision for paid menstrual leave mandatory for all workplaces.’
In a written response submitted in the upper house on Wednesday, Irani said that ‘a small proportion of women/ girls suffer from severe dysmenorrhea or similar complaints; and most of these cases are manageable by medication.’
Jha further raised concerns about potential risks associated with sanitary napkins due to certain substances used in their production and inquired about regulations governing these products.
Responding to which, Irani highlighted the availability of sanitary napkins at affordable prices through the Jan Aushadi Kendra, and said, ‘through 10,000 Jan Aushadi Kendra, sanitary napkins are available at 1 rupee, and there has been no complaint.’
‘However, the issue of menstruation and its associated activities are surrounded by silence, often treated with shame and associated with social taboos that restrict mobility, freedom and access to normal activities for menstruating persons, and many a times leads to their harassment and social exclusion. It becomes even more sensitive, when a girl/ menstruating person is unaware of the changes that she undergoes emotionally and physically, while facing her menstrual cycle for the first time,’ she said in her response.
On the disposal of sanitary products, Irani said, ‘In 2014 after Modi Sarkar, the Jal Shakti ministry started with national and state protocols for the management of sanitary products.’
In her written response, the ministry laid down various schemes initiated by the government for menstrual hygiene; it stated that the government has multiple initiatives promoting menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls aged 10-19 years.
‘The Scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene, backed by the National Health Mission, aims to raise awareness and is implemented through State Programme Implementation Plans. Additionally, under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has developed National Guidelines on Menstrual Hygiene Management for rural areas,’” she said.
Notably, in October, the government released a draft Menstrual Hygiene Policy advocating for leave provisions for menstruating individuals in workplaces.
‘Educational Institutions and workplaces to promote inclusivity, recognize the diverse needs of the workforce and foster an environment that supports the well-being and productivity of all individuals. Provisions like flexible working arrangements, such as work from home or support leave, to accommodate the specific needs of individuals during menstruation. It is important to emphasize that such arrangements should be available to all, to prevent perpetuating stigmas or assumptions about productivity based on menstrual cycles,”’the draft stated.
The scheme is supported by the National Health Mission through the State Programme Implementation Plan route, based on the proposals received from the states or Union Territories. One of the major objectives of the scheme is to increase awareness on menstrual hygiene, Irani said.
The health ministry has formulated a draft menstrual hygiene policy in consultation with stakeholders, she added.
She also highlighted the other initiatives taken by the various ministries for the promotion of menstrual hygiene.
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