Gender-inclusive workplace: Not without menstrual hygiene management

By Makarand Gomashe*

Recent years have seen a shift of work culture and hiring dynamics at workplace. Most of the new hires are asked to submit their demographic details along with the job application is to evaluate and ensure the equal opportunity to people from different backgrounds, including gender. In the 21st century, it is ironical and surprising to call a woman as diversity. According to a research report published by Statista, in 2018, 89 percent of respondents believed that in the Asia Pacific region, diversity and inclusion initiatives were primarily focused on gender equality.

Even after the focus on gender inclusion and industry wide practices to increase women proportions, the gender equality at workplace still looks like a distant goal. Hence, here it is important to ask and understand that can hiring women in good numbers or mere promoting them to higher positions sustainably solve the issue of gender gap at the workplace?

The Lack of Social Inclusivity

Women, in India, are socialized to be uncomfortable, to endure pain, and to ignore their discomfort. A working woman spends most of her time at her workplace and unfortunately, her menstrual cycle cannot align with her busy work-life schedule and job role. Further, the lack of adequate facilities of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) addressing Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) at workplace make the condition worse. A working woman has to rush to distant stores or ask colleagues for help during the work hours, making her feel uncomfortable both physically and socially. Based on evidence, the inability to manage menstrual hygiene, women often practice absenteeism from workplace, which in turn, has severe costs them socially and economically. Also, the social taboos and stigmas attached to menstruation has resulted in long silence around the topic, causing the unfavourable environment to continue.

“It is critical to ensure that women rights are effectively provided. With development and rapid industrialisation, women’s safety and healthcare support need to catch pace. There are huge gaps at workplaces with respect to gender, and there is not much done to ensure the gender equity”, said Manjula Prasad, a women’s rights activist in Ahmedabad, in an interview. Another women’s rights activist, Sheba George said, “the major causes of continued gender gaps in Indian society are the lack of political will and lack of commitment to gender equality. The leaders and laws divide the women further across religion, caste and race through their biased attention to different rewards, events, crimes, etc and further dilute the notion of equality.”

India and Government

Some states in India have realised the severity of the issue of Menstrual Hygiene and have acted on it. In May 2017, Kerala mandated sanitary napkin vending machines in all schools becoming the first state to do so. The ‘She Pad’ scheme was implemented by the government with an objective of distributing healthy and clean sanitary pads to all school students. In October 2017, the Supreme Court released Rs 10 lakhs with immediate effect for promoting menstrual hygiene among the 1,000-woman lawyers, interns, and the 250-woman staff and decided to have sanitary napkin vending machines. In January 2018, Bhopal Railway Station, in the network of Indian Railways, became the first station to install an automated sanitary napkin dispenser which was named Happy Nari.

Also, in 2018, the ‘Menstruation Benefit Bill’ was tabled by Ninong Ering, a Member of Parliament in Lok Sabha representing Arunachal Pradesh. The Bill aimed at providing two days of paid menstrual leave every month to working women as well as effective and better facilities at the workplace during menstruation.

Global Practices

According to the 2019 annual “Women in Work Index” report released by PwC, out of 33 OECD countries, Iceland was the best nation for female workers with an index score of 79.1. Sweden was second with 76.1 while New Zealand was third with 73.6. The research evaluates female economic empowerment via several measures including equality of earnings, labour-force participation, child-care costs, maternity rights and representation in senior jobs.

Among the gender-based gaps, these countries have closed the gaps in health and education with access to similar and adequate facilities reaching 96% and 95% respectively. The Scandinavian countries have effective system universal health care, a suitable welfare program and an equal living wage.

Also, the World Bank has been actively partnering with countries and organisations to make impact in different societies. For example, in the Kyrgyz Republic, a project on rural water supply and sanitation is helping the Government in scaling up an UNICEF’s MHM package. This package includes both the required physical infrastructure improvements and training to teachers on MHM education to girls.

Conclusion

“Corporates must necessarily have Internal committees for women, awareness programs, regular quarterly meetups and regular monitoring of preventive measures for women’s safety at workplace. There should accountability of employers informing all employees regarding the practices for gender equality. Also, India has several good laws which need the grassroot level implementation for effective outcome” mentioned Sheba George.

Hence, following actions can help initiate the society towards better MHM and better women inclusion at workplace:

1. Social Awareness: It is crucial to start by removing the stigma and taboo associated with menstruation and making the genders aware of their responsibilities and best practices to support female colleagues. This would help women in being educated and effectively managing the menstrual hygiene and their peers to be truly inclusive by providing the required support.

2. Laws: Policy makers can focus on the criticality of the issue and make the situation better with laws that address the situation sustainably. One way could be to make it compulsory for the employers to provide sanitary napkins through arrangements such as Sanitary Pad Vending Machine. Making sanitary napkins compulsory at the workplaces would lead to improvement of health conditions of working women in India, while also leading to greater productivity at the workplace.

3. Government and NGO interventions: India has a large informal sector which has small scale businesses which either have very less money or no care for concerns of their employees. In such scenarios, active NGOs and government can intervene to not just monetarily support but also monitor the recommended practices at workplace for women. While there are toilets for women at many places today, these lack provision of sanitary pads which can help women avoid accidental staining of clothes, and not make women to rush to purchase a pack during emergencies in uncomfortable conditions. This will make women more at ease and more productive and focussed on their work or study.

*IIM Ahmadabad, PGP in Management; IIT Jodhpur, Computer Science & Engineering. Thanks to Instructor: Dr. Sandeep Pandey; activists: Majula Prasad and Sheeba George; academic associate: Harleen Sandhu

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