One of India’s biggest food delivery companies says it will give all female employees 10 days of “period leave” a year — a significant milestone in a country where menstruation remains a taboo topic.
In a statement Saturday, Zomato founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal said women and transgender people would be entitled to one day of period leave for each menstrual cycle.
Zomato — which bought Uber’s food delivery business in India earlier this year — is the most high profile company in the country to introduce period leave. At least a handful of other companies have introduced similar policies in the past, according to local media reports.
“At Zomato, we want to foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance,” Goyal said in an email to staff that was posted publicly. “There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave. You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your period leave for the day.”
He urged anyone who experienced “unnecessary harassment” or “distasteful comments” for taking period leave to speak up, and told male colleagues it “shouldn’t be uncomfortable for us.”
“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,” Goyal said. “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.”
Menstruation is such a taboo subject in India that women in many homes aren’t allowed to cook or touch anyone during their period as they are considered impure and dirty. That social shame can prevent women from talking openly about menstruation, meaning many girls aren’t taught about safe, hygienic practices.
Some in the country have tried to change that stigma. For example, Bihar — one of India’s most populous states — allows women to take two days of leave each month because of “biological reasons.” However, India’s federal government hasn’t pushed to change the nationwide rules around period leave.
Zomato’s move prompted debate online, with some complaining on Twitter that women should be entitled to 12 days rather than 10. Others disagreed with creating the leave, including one person who said it amounted to “special treatment.” Others warned that giving women period leave could open them up to gender discrimination in the work place.
Ranjana Kumari, the director of non-profit Centre for Social Research, which advocates for women’s rights in India, acknowledged that some people believe period leave makes it appear as if women have a disability and may make it harder for women to get employed.
But she still welcomed Zomato’s initiative, saying it helps to normalize women’s bodies and allows them to take care of their health.
“We are women and we have to accept and respect -— and make society accept and respect — who we are, and what happens to us as women,” she said, adding that she would welcome any legislation that introduced a nationwide policy of period leave. “This is our body, and this is what happens to our body.”
“Let society accept who we are and how we are, instead of trying to fight to become what men are.”
Research released last year based on a survey of 32,748 Dutch women between the ages of 15 and 45 found 81% said they had been less productive as a result of their menstrual symptoms. The researchers calculated that on average, women were absent from work or school for 1.3 days per year because of their period — and productivity loss was equivalent to 8.9 days per year.
— CNN’s Katie Hunt contributed to this story.
CNN’s Katie Hunt contributed to this story.