Smriti Irani Says She Opposed Paid Period Leave Because…

 Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Smriti Irani said that she opposed the Menstrual Hygiene Policy because she did not want women to face discrimination and harassment at the workplace over it.

According to the Minister, menstruation is not a “handicap” and it shouldn’t warrant a specific policy for “paid leave”.

In an interview with news agency ANI, the Minister said, “When I spoke in parliament, I spoke from my personal experience because I don’t want more and more women to be harassed.”

The minister also said that the question that prompted the statement was intended either to shock, provoke or attract attention.

The minister added, “I could’ve said much more on the issue but I didn’t because the gentleman who asked the question never intended to find a solution for women.”

The question was posed by Minister Manoj Kumar Jha as part of the list of questions for oral answers to be asked at a sitting of the Rajya Sabha on December 13.

As per Smriti Irani, the list of questions posed to the WCD minister was, “Will the Minister of Women and Child Development be pleased to state:

a/ Whether govt is planning to roll out a Menstrual Hygiene Policy soon

b/ If so, the details thereof

c/ whether the policy contains provisions to promote and provide for menstrual hygiene among the LGBTQIA community.”

Highlighting question ‘C’ of the list of questions, Ms Irani said that the question for promoting or providing a menstrual hygiene plan for gay men was intended either to shock, provoke or attract attention.

Speaking to ANI, Ms Irani said, “Tell me, the honourable member wanted a response for the LGBTQIA community. Which gay man without a uterus has a menstrual cycle?

“The question was intended either to shock, provoke or to attract attention. Which it did. It did attract attention, it did shock many people, it did provoke controversy, but the question in itself indicates what the intent is,” she asserted.

The minister further said, “Now when I talk about the issue outside the parliament and if I have to reflect on it as a female professional, the LGBTQIA, Manoj Jha wants me to provide an answer on how can I provide for gay men’s menstrual hygiene. Is that applicable?”

Ms Irani also said that Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha could get into trouble with the Chairman of the house for lying or insinuating on the menstrual policy.

“The second issue is that Jha says in his communication that Bihar has a policy of menstrual leave. He said this on the floor of the house,” she said.

“If you look at my answer it talks about a policy that is available on the government website. The issue is that in his verbal intervention, he says Bihar has a policy, he insinuates, as though Bihar is an overarching policy which applies to the private sector,” she stated.

“Bihar doesn’t have a private sector policy, the chair can pull him up for lying or insinuating. Bihar may have in 1992, a policy for paid leave for women in government not private,” said the minister.

“I clearly said that Menstrual Cycle is not a handicapped possession that women have. I did not call it a disability,” said Ms Irani.

Speaking further she said, “Somebody asked me why did you call it a handicap? I said you open any dictionary, the synonym for handicap is impediment, I did not say disability. Then that person says you don’t know women suffer pain during the cycle?”

“Interestingly it was all men, somebody wanted to take out my uterus on the issue,” Ms Irani said pointing out to the person who uploaded a post on social media in response to the WCD minister’s statement on Menstrual Hygiene Policy.

The whole movement of feminism was so that women could have their opinions voiced themselves no matter what the consequence. And for someone to say I am a “feminist man” and because ‘you have an opinion which is different from mine your uterus must be taken out, is a wrong statement to make, said Ms Irani.

“The fact that he can do it with impunity with someone on a constitutional post means there is much more that he can possibly do with the people around him, working with him or within his family. That itself is a frightening proposition for those women,” stated Irani.

“But what is the issue at hand? I have unionised in media as a professional in many issues as a writer, producer, and an allied worker for people who work behind the screen and our intent for 25 years has been to not create new challenges for women where they get harassed or for that matter where they get discriminated against,” said Ms Irani.

So imagine that when a parliamentarian tells me that mandate a national policy or leave across all segments on menstrual hygiene, what does it do?

Citing an example on the context, Ms Irani said, “People have to report an implementation? Now imagine a scenario in a private sector where somebody has to implement it, your HR has to know, and the accounts sector has to know.”

Ms Irani added, “Why should a woman’s menstrual cycle be known to an employer? Imagine if it’s a single woman who chooses not to take those leaves that are so-called proposed to be granted. Can you imagine the harassment that women would have to face?”

Third, can you imagine that when we are saying that more and more women need to come and join the workforce, especially in factory floors and corporate houses?

Imagine a floor with 20,000 women? So we are creating more barriers for discrimination, said the Minister.

“What this gentleman (Manoj Jha) did when he asked me this question never told anybody the fact what never came out through any critique is that under the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Rules of 2020, medical leave is already provided for,” said Irani.

“What nobody spoke about is that if you forget Indian institutions if you look at research which is coming from MayoClinic, what do they say, 80-85 per cent of women face it in their lifecycle. If it persists beyond the age of 25 years, you need a checkup, you need a pelvic examination. It is a medical issue, it’s shocking that it is less in married women and more in young girls,” she spoke further.

“So the issue is that you are creating newer layers for women to get humiliated, for discrimination,” she asserted.

When I spoke in the parliament, I spoke from my personal experience because I don’t want more and more women to be harassed, she said.

“But the question is it not provided for in the law? It is a part of the law already, but it is only in the context of a medical leave which is true because if you look at the challenge with severe pain, that is an indication of a hormone or chemical imbalance or genetic inclination to it especially which means you need a doctor if it is above the age of 25 years,” she added.

When asked about the post, K Kavitha, Member of the Telangana Legislative Council uploaded on the Menstrual Hygiene Policy, Irani said, “I don’t expect her to be socially or politically mature.”

K Kavitha had posted on X, “Menstruation isn’t a choice; it’s a biological reality. Denying paid leave ignores the genuine pain countless women endure”. As a woman, it’s disconcerting to see a lack of empathy for the genuine challenges women face and the fight we have to put up for everything. It’s high time to indeed bridge the gap between policy-making and reality with empathy and reason.”

“I have deducted in my experience of working with her as an opposition member, most of them fancy the headline, they don’t fancy the content that provides the solution, even the gentleman that asked the question, why would you ask me about providing menstrual hygiene for gay men,” said Irani.

“Manoj Jha is asking me for part 1 of his supplementary about the plastic composition of the manufacturing of the sanitary pads. These records are available, Mr Jha knows I’m not manufacturing pads,” asserted Ms Irani.

“So the intent was to create a headline, possibly get featured in one of those brute videos, which happened and it is easier to do when the person who’s responding is as blunt as I am,” said the Minister.

Ms Irani said that menstruation is not a “handicap” and, therefore, does not warrant a “paid leave policy”.

In her viewpoint, leave for menstruation may lead to women facing discrimination at the workplace.

This stance not only reflects the lack of awareness but also highlights the social stigma around menstruation in India.

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