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Ninong Ering, a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, has moved a private members’ Bill, ‘the Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017’, which has proposed that women working in the public and private sectors get two days of paid menstrual leave every month. The Bill also seeks to provide better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation.
Ering, who turns 59 on Wednesday, represents the Congress in the Lok Sabha, and may be on the cusp of stoking a debate on the issue within his own party. Earlier this year, Culture Machine, a media company, introduced one-day menstrual leave a month for women working in the company. Gozpoop, another media company also introduced menstrual leave.
Culture Machine launched an online petition appealing to other companies in India to provide for menstrual leave, but it was opposed by some commentators, including Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi. She said the move was well-intention and laudable, but the challenge of women’s empowerment in India was to ensure their participation in the workforce. Chaturvedi pointed out that the need was not to frame exclusive policies, but inclusive ones to help women fit in. Some have also pointed out companies, instead of providing for menstrual leave, should allow women to work from home on some days of the month.
All MPs who are not ministers are considered private members. MPs need to give a month’s notice for introduction of the Bill. The Committee on Private Members’ Bills and Resolutions decides the relative priority of the Bills after a ballot. Ering said the Bill has been selected in the ballot and is supposed to be presented in the next private members business.
Last week, Ering had also asked a question in the Lok Sabha on whether the government has plans to propose menstrual leave at the workplace. The Ministry of Women and Child Development said there was no proposal to provide for menstrual leave, neither did the ministry planned to pilot a legislation on the issue. The reply, however, listed the various awareness efforts for adolescent girls.
"There had been frequent demands across India to further amend the Labour Laws in order to provide better working facilities to the female employees. The Menstruation Leave movement has gained momentum across the nation and there had been intense demands to entitle women with paid leave during menstruation. Besides, there had been demands to provide intermediate breaks during menstruation in the working days and facilities for rest at the workplace in India,” Ering, a second term MP, said.
A couple of companies in India have individually introduced the policy of paid Menstrual Leaves for their female employees, Ering said. He said that research conducted at University College, London has revealed that period pain can be as “bad as having a heart attack". Ering said women not only face immense discomfort but their productivity also drops on the first and second days of the menstrual cycle. Therefore, menstrual leave is desirable both from the perspectives of female employees and employers.
According to a study by PRS Legislative Research, Parliament has passed 14 private members’ Bills till date. However, no private members’ Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970. Of the 300 odd such Bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, only four per cent were discussed and the rest lapsed without even a single debate.
But private members’ Bills, even if defeated, help in shaping government policy and legislations. In April 2015, the Rajya Sabha passed ‘The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014. It was moved by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) member Tiruchi Siva, and was the first private member’s Bill to get the Upper House’s approval in the last 47 years.
The government promised the House that it would bring in a Bill on the issue. In 2016, the union cabinet approved a government Bill on the subject, which is likely to be taken up in the forthcoming Budget session. However, Siva has complained that the government Bill is a watered down version of his Bill.
Private members’ bills and private members’ resolutions are taken up on alternate Fridays.