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Why 1 company is instituting 'period leave' for its employees

One of India's largest food delivery companies just offered its employees period leave to help them grapple with the discomfort of menstruation.
/ Source: TODAY

For some people, their periods come with severe jolts of pain that make them want to curl up on the couch, clutching a heating pad. The cramping can be intense — and as many as 20% of women say these aches impact their ability to perform daily activities. But many people just suffer through the pain, and if they need to take a day off from work or school, they offer a vague reason why.

Is change on the horizon? One company in India has decided to offer relief to its menstruating employees by providing 10 period leave days a year.

“There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave,” Deepinder Goyal, Zomato CEO, said in a statement shared on the food-delivery service’s website. “I know that menstrual cramps are very painful for a lot of women — and we have to support them through it if we want to build a truly collaborative culture at Zomato.”

Half of all people who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, aka painful periods, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Some people experience the aches just because of their periods while others feel it because of another conditions, such as endometriosis, fibroids and adenomyosis. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, period pain can include:

  • Lower abdomen aches
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

Despite how common agony during menstruation is, stigma around periods remains high. A recent survey from Plan International UK found that 1 in 10 women don’t even talk about their periods with female friends and two-thirds would never mention it to their male relatives or friends. Period shame remains a problem in India and last year a documentary about it, called "Period. End of Sentence.," explored how it impacts women.

“I think when I went there and was face to face with the women and talking to them in detail about their experience and building their relationships with them, it became really clear to me that it was a really big source of shame,” Rayka Zehtabchi director of the documentary, explained to TODAY last year. "It’s held so many of the women back, for so long."

Zomato says its policy aims to help people grapple with the difficulties menstruation might bring to some.

“Zomato understands that men and women are born with different biological realities. It is our job to make sure that we made room for biological needs, while not lowering the bar for the quality of our work and the impact that we create,” Goyal said in the statement.

Period shame doesn't just exist in India. In the U.S., a podcast from middle school students, called “Sssh! Periods," tackles period stigma and misinformation. The teen hosts are relieved to have a space where they can be honest about what is happening with their bodies.

“I’m able to talk about it more. Like, for example, I don’t have to say that I’m sick anymore. I can say, ‘I am on my period.’ And my mom’s very proud of me to be able to speak about something that she wasn’t able to talk about with her mom,” Caroline Abreu, one of the hosts, told TODAY last year.

This openness helps Abreu and others like her feel empowered to get the help they need for their periods. And, talking about it benefits others as it raises awareness of a misunderstood condition.

“It’s also a lack of knowledge given about the subject because no one really talks about it. It’s seen as un-ladylike to talk about it,” she added.

The social media response to Zomato’s announcement reflected some of the misconceptions people have about periods and some complained the policy was unfair to men. Still, many applauded Zomato’s decision to help people who menstruate. The policy also applies to transgender people who have periods.

“Thank you Zomato for understanding the hitherto ignored reality. Happy for the women you employ,” one Twitter user shared.

Another wrote:

“I support this. Why to hide the reason of my leave while cramping.”

Yet another person shared:

“Such a great initiative. Only those who go through the intense pain during that phase can truly appreciate this decision.”

The company ended their press release about the policy change with a note for men:

"Our female colleagues expressing that they are on their period leave shouldn’t be uncomfortable for us," the statement said. "This is a part of life, and while we don’t fully understand what women go through, we need to trust them when they say they need to rest this out."