Amid debate about period leave being granted to female employees in India, a report has surfaced about a Kerala school that granted period leave to its students a 100 years ago. According to the report, Government Girls School in Tripunithura, located in the Ernakulam district of Kerala, had allowed students to take leave during their annual examination in 1912, as they were menstruating. It permitted these students to write their examinations after their periods.
This has been sourced from a book titled Kerala in the 19th Century by P Bhaskaranunni, the headmaster of the school and historian. Published in 1988, this book enjoys a reputation of being an in-depth study on lifestyles, rituals, communities, livelihood and caste in Kerala during the 19th century. As per the book, then education laws dictated 300 days of compulsory attendance.
Citing that female teachers and students would take a leave of absence during menstruation, the administration saw it fit grant period leave to its students and teachers. An excerpt from the book says, “The Education Director had issued an order on January 24 stating that those students who were unable to write annual exams during the time of menstruation should be permitted to write the same on another occasion.”
Conversations around menstruation have undoubtedly become less taboo than it was in the 19th century. It is commendable that a school took the mental and physical health of its students seriously enough to grant them period leave.
But this, presumably, is an isolated incident. Even today, many schools notice a 20 percent drop out rate from female students thanks to menstruation. School corridors talk about menstruation in hushed whispers. Schools in India need to take a leaf out of Tripunithura’s school and make provisions for menstrual leave for school girls today.
Perhaps another example from Kerala will help. Following the example set by Mumbai-based Culture Machine, Kerala media giant Matrubhumi also implemented the ‘first day of period’ leave for its female staff. Not only this, in the ongoing state assembly in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared that the government is discussing adding a provision of period leave for its female staff. He also added that this period leave is an attempt to normalise menstruation rather than exceptionalise it.
The very fact that such a discussion is taking place on a state administrative level is encouraging. Period leave is more than a breath of fresh air for most employed women today, but it’s even more crucial for teenage girls in school. It can lead to less emotional trauma, reduce taboo surrounding the subject early, and can potentially lead to lesser drop out rates from female students.