SC asks Centre to mull formation of menstrual leave policy

In a significant move, the Supreme Court of India has called upon the central government to contemplate the establishment of a menstrual leave policy. This directive, announced on July 8, 2024, was in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate. The bench, led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and including Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, requested the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to examine the issue.

The court's instruction was explicit: engage all stakeholders, both at the Union and State levels, and assess the feasibility of creating a model policy on menstrual leave. This move is seen as a significant stride towards acknowledging and addressing the unique health and hygiene needs of women in the workplace.

However, the apex court also issued a word of caution. It warned that mandating a menstrual leave policy might discourage employers from hiring women, potentially exacerbating gender inequality in the workplace. The court clarified that its order would not hinder the framing of an independent policy by the state government.

period leave policy

The Petitioner's Argument and Global Trends

The petitioner argued that a woman's 'menstrual status' is not only a personal right intrinsic to her privacy but also needs to be treated without discrimination and with dignity. The plea emphasized the need for the State to provide measures that offer relief to women during menstrual pain, enabling them to cope with the discomfort and protect their personal rights with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The plea also highlighted that many private organizations in the country have already implemented menstrual leave policies. Globally, countries like the UK, China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Spain, and Zambia have such policies in place. This global trend underscores the growing recognition of the need for menstrual leave policies that respect women's health and well-being.

Contrasting Viewpoints and the Way Forward

However, the plea also pointed out a contrasting viewpoint from the then Union Women and Child Development Minister, Smriti Irani. In a statement in the Rajya Sabha in December of the previous year, Irani had said that menstruation does not necessitate a specific policy for granting paid leave. This statement reflects the diverse opinions and debates surrounding the issue of menstrual leave.

The Supreme Court's decision to consider a menstrual leave policy is a significant step towards acknowledging and addressing the unique health and hygiene needs of women in the workplace. However, the implementation of such a policy must be done thoughtfully, considering potential unintended consequences such as increased gender discrimination in hiring practices.

The court's decision also highlights the importance of consulting all stakeholders in the process of policy formation. This includes not only government officials and legal experts but also women themselves, who are the most directly affected by such policies. By including a diverse range of voices in the conversation, policymakers can ensure that the resulting policy is fair, effective, and responsive to the needs of all women.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court's call for the consideration of a menstrual leave policy is a significant development in the ongoing efforts to promote gender equality and women's rights in India. While the implementation of such a policy will require careful consideration and consultation with all stakeholders, it represents a crucial step towards acknowledging and addressing the unique health and hygiene needs of women in the workplace. This decision underscores the importance of creating inclusive and supportive workplace policies that respect and uphold the rights and well-being of all employees.