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Teachers’ fight for a period leave gathers momentum in India

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A voice that was first heard in the streets of Uttar Pradesh last month, and has only become louder ever since is the demand for period leaves. The movement is led by female teachers of the Department of Basic Education, and members of the Mahila Shikshak Sangh. The teachers’ fight for a period leave is a sustained effort by the associations, with one simple demand – a three day period leave each month.

In the state, teachers travel long distances to teach in areas not well connected by transport systems and have access to only filthy toilets in these schools. This adds to the problems that come during their periods. The three-day leave has been asked for, keeping in mind the menstrual health of women who face a lot of discomfort and pain during this time. Sulochana Maurya who is the principal of a school in Barabanki district and additionally the president of the association, says that almost 70% of women are placed in village schools.  “It’s well known that menstruating women need rest as many experience physical discomfort and emotional agony and travelling 30-60kms to reach schools in remote rural areas can be especially taxing,” Ms. Maurya said in an interview.

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The association leading the campaign asking for a serious change represents more than 200,000 female teaching staff, working in the 168,000 government-run schools. In a country like India where the only conversation surrounding menstrual care is hushed, this campaign is, at once, an important step to start the discourse on the issue. It has the potential to bring the struggles of women in Uttar Pradesh to the front stage, by offering a much-needed alternative to deal with the physical and emotional agony that comes with your period.

The woe of these women can be understood from what various teachers have to say about their working conditions. A teacher travelling from the state capital to a small village said, “There are six toilets in our school but on most days all of them are dirty. They are not cleaned every day and with hundreds of students using them, they are unusable.”

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Over the past few years, corporations like digital entertainment firm Culture Machine, Tata Steel and the food delivery app Zomato, have announced period leave for their female employees to take into consideration their needs and make work a better experience for women. The fight of the association is also garnering more attention with each passing day, as people understand the teachers’ fight for a period leave is a stepping stone towards a more equitable working atmosphere for women, which for the longest time has been inclined towards accommodating the needs of men.

However, the policy itself is not foolproof. Critiques point out that simply the existence of a period leave makes women less desirable to employers, as this demographic can easily be excused as a drain on productivity. Such opinions and their validity are subject to personal interpretation, however, I strongly believe that they come from a regressive place. Such individuals would discriminate against women nonetheless.

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The ‘stain’ surrounding period continues to show the long walk that exists before the society is ready to be a much more accepting space for women. The fight is a long one but worth all the efforts, as we stand with the teachers’ fight for period leaves.

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