I was sitting at the foyer of JW Marriot, Saket, waiting to meet a c-level executive for a job discussion. As unpredictable as it can get, the head honcho was due to arrive in the next five minutes when my periods started. In that nick of a moment, I was in a state of flux. If I go to the washroom and change, the CEO will have to wait, which looked unprofessional. Plus, I was not carrying a napkin. I decided to go to washroom and haul a bunch of tissue papers and stuff them inside to curb the flow. This was risky as the tissue is unhygienic to be kept inside genital area and it also chafes my thighs, but I had no option left. As I entered the washroom, I saw a lady cleaner and thought of asking if incidentally they keep a pad, since it was premium hotel. To my delight, she nodded and went out. In about five minutes (as a sign of superlative customer service), the housekeeping manager who was a male, came at the entrance and handed over a napkin nicely draped in a pink envelope. I was enthralled.

The above was one of a kind experience that I had in a decade of work life. Menstruation was not. There were numerous months, when periods (unpredictable half-pint red blots) happened, when I was outside my home, most often at workplace and sometimes in market, on travel. Their frequent occurrence in office was not a happenstance but was backed by a good amount of scientific evidence.

A female has a primal menstrual period of around (12-45), 70% of which falls in her standard work range of (22-45). Her menstrual period ranges between 3-5 days a month and she works for 12 months a year, unless not pregnant. This makes it an astronomical 1300+ periods, she can potentially encounter at her workplace in her lifetime.

I have spent one third of my work life and have worked with hundreds of females who swear the above experience. Of getting menstruated in the mid of our work routine, and not always being prepared for it. Science again has an answer for it. Periods are result of a uterine cycle that prepares body for reproduction. In the event, ovary does not get fertilized, the body sheds that preparation of tissues, follicles, muscles in the most easier and convenient form, that is of blood. In an adult woman, the event of preparation-fertilization-ejection happens in a range of 21-35 days. Which is a typical time range between the first and the second period This range is a reason, why sometimes women cannot predict and thus are not prepared for periods when they are out of their homes.

Period management is a two-fold exercise and in Indian societal set-up they also bear a barrage of being a stigma, a taboo, being hideous, and impure. Workplaces comprise of people who are no different than the society they live in and hence workplaces too are a reflection of practices that are deeply embedded in a society. Periods also come under this milieu.

So, what happens when a working female gets her period and is not prepared for it, that is she is not carrying a sanitary napkin. Peer to peer support comes in handy and she reaches out to her female colleagues for help in a muffled voice.

‘Do you have a spare napkin?’

Why muffled? Because the male colleagues are also nearby, and it will be embarrassing if they get to know that the said female is on her periods. Why would it break a havoc? Because this is how we were raised.

Periods were always a dark curtain between a female and her male counterpart. Be it a daughter and her father, a mother and her son, a male manager and his female subordinate, these are relationships which are continuous and consistent in nature, where we spend a considerable part of our life. Yet, a health aspect which is so integral to our well-being, remains hidden from their notice.

Women represent only around 10% of all board-level positions worldwide even though they make up over 40% of the global work force. This no. is also a reason why workplaces remain ignorant and impediment to periods.

Lack of access of sanitary napkin at workplace, when an unpredictable period strikes in, leaves a female panicked, harassed, and exhausted. She could be engaged in an important work when her focus shifts from her work to getting a pad at that instant. Else, delay of time would lead to wetting and staining, which is a huge embarrassment and source of discomfort for the female. I had faced this situation multiple times, when triggered by that unforgettable, remarkable experience at that five-star hotel, I took a decision –

  • A decision to not remain quiet and standstill
  • A decision to gather strength of more such unheard voices
  • A decision to do something about it to the best of my capacity

Thus, I began my survey on ‘Period Troubles – Women at Workplace’. The target group were females aged between 22-40 and who worked in demanding professions like sales, marketing, operations. The survey asked two basic questions about period friendliness of workplace and situations when female got caught unawares in their periods. Not more than 5% females replied, due to the stigma linked with this subject. The rest (200 females) spoke out uninhibited. The results resonated with my personal experience, the experiences shared were appalling.

  • 65% females worked in organizations that do not provide any access to sanitary napkin.
  • 60% females menstruated in office but were not carrying a sanitary napkin, of which 59% females managed by asking from their colleagues; 27% went to the market, while menstruating, to buy it. 1% respondents used rolled up toilet paper as an alternative.

During company client party I had my period and I was in a soup. I asked colleagues, but they did not have a spare pad. I then purchased from shop which was couple of kms away from company. It was very difficult to manage during late evening party.

It was my first day at work and I got my periods. I was not carrying a sanitary pad. Had to go around asking colleagues who were new. It was highly embarrassing.

I had the first day of my period and had to come to office with terrible ache on my waist & thighs. I tried to take leave post lunch, but the manager didn’t approve my request. After this I left with no choice but to continue office bearing that pain.

Horrible in first two days, I wish these two days fall on Saturday and Sunday every month. Sometimes I feel like just go back home and sleep, but you don’t have options. Every month you cannot take leave

Period started earlier than their scheduled date, while doing a village visit / field work. Had to work in dreadful pain and then drive back on the bumpy roads saddled with potholes for hours to get back to the hotel. I have the flexibility to wrap up sooner, but these are the challenges one signs up for when working on the field.

Slowly it became clearer to me that there exists a problem which has no name. The problem was of predicament, to speak freely and fearlessly about a natural biological event. The problem was of ignorance where no one deemed it important, despite in silence suffering of thousands of females.