It's not every day you hear about an organisation granting paid period leaves to women employees in Pakistan. It is a rare, if not non-existent, occurrence in the country — so when Floraison Intimate announced implementing a paid period leave policy on social media, we did a double take.
Floraison Intimate is a lingerie brand with a mission. It aims to "break the taboo surrounding ladies’ undergarments in Pakistan" so that people can consider lingerie simply "inner wear", as opposed to being something shameful, promiscuous and unmentionable. It's a perception that hangs heavy in society, so much so that lingerie shops are often hidden from view in marketplaces, their windows covered with paper to ensure no prying eyes look inside and see what almost 50% of the country's population consider essential wear.
Floraison is a small organisation, with a staff comprising entirely of women. Its founder, Ramsha Mariam, told Images why she thought it was necessary for her company to give period leaves to employees. "Being a woman entrepreneur, I know it's not easy to work and be active during your periods because of the cramps and several other issues like heavy flow, back aches and migraines, so I decided that in my organisation, all women should have some kind of rest on such special days," she said. "Our female employees are very happy because now they are under no mental pressure to cope with the menstrual pain and meet the deadlines at work [at the same time]."
Periods are often painful for women, in fact pain is a common part of your menstrual cycle. According to the UK's National Health Service (NHS), period pain is usually felt as "painful muscle cramps in the tummy, which can spread to the back and thighs". It can also come as "intense spasms", causing extreme discomfort. The pain usually lasts 48 to 72 hours, although it can last longer. In addition to the pain, women also suffer from various symptoms prior to getting periods as physical and emotional changes occur within the body. These symptoms include "tiredness or trouble sleeping", "bloating or tummy pain" and severe headaches.
Periods are a hard time for women and organisations often fail to recognise that a woman suffering from period pain may not be able to work. In some cases, the pain can be so debilitating that immediate medical attention is required. It might be difficult for women to talk about what they're going through with their superiors at work, especially since there's cultural stigma around discussing periods publicly in Pakistan. For Mariam, it is important that her employees feel comfortable at work in order to do their very best. "We provide a safe and comfortable environment for the women working here," she said. "What matters is that our employees are happy. They should meet their deadlines but also take care of themselves."
So how exactly does Floraison intend to enact the policy? "Our HR department has marked the period dates for each female employee so that we know when and which employee can go on leave on their respective dates and work is divided amongst the remaining staff accordingly," she said. "It's a paid leave for three days. It depends on the employees as to how and when they want to utilise their leaves within the seven days of the period cycle."
There is no "hard and fast rule" to implementing the policy though, especially since it isn't necessary that women feel the most pain during the first and second day of their periods. "There is no hard and fast rule that a person has to stay home on their first or second day," she explained. "It totally depends on the employee and when she wants to take the leave to rest at home. We give our employees the leverage to avail period leaves when they feel it's needed."
Floraison also takes into account that women may not have regular periods, perhaps due to conditions such as PCOS. "It's completely fine if our employees have irregular periods because of any issue," the company said. "They still get two to three period leaves so it depends on when they want to avail them. They can inform us and the organisation will grant them their respective period leaves accordingly."
Many organisations around the world have introduced period leaves, including fellow Pakistani company Swyft, which introduced paid period leaves last year. In fact in some countries, women are entitled to period leave as per state policy. In Japan, period leave entitlement has existed for more than 70 years after it introduced the policy in 1947 (not all period leaves are paid though). In South Korea, the policy was adopted in 1953. In India, food delivery company Zomato introduced period leaves in 2020, saying "all women — including transgender people — at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year".
Mariam thinks adopting the policy is a crucial step for the betterment of women workers. "It's an important policy that should be introduced by all organisations because menstrual pain is quite severe for some women and it is really difficult to work and meet deadlines if they're suffering from migraines, cramps and a heavy flow. I feel there is a need to create awareness on the topic so that every organisation knows how necessary it is for women workers [to get] paid period leave."