Menstrual Questionnaires for Indian Civil Servants

In the workplace there are challenges related to equal pay and fair treatment. However few women employed by the Indian Civil Service anticipated a highly unorthodox request that arguably infringes on their right to privacy. New rules require them to reveal intimate details of their menstrual cycles.

Photo of an indian woman getting ready for her wedding.

An indian woman getting ready for her wedding. Photo © 2006 Vasant Dave.

Jawaharlal Nehru once said - "You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women".

Women in India face many hurdles in the fight for equality and justice. Assaults on women's rights begin even before birth. Gender-selective abortions have resulted in a phenomena best described as female infanticide.

Domestic violence is a major problem in India, some of it related to dowries. Despite the existence of the Dowry Prohibition Act, enforcement of its provisions has been slack. There are believed to be thousands of dowry related killings every year. The problem of abuse impacts children also. A recent government commissioned survey estimates that 53% of children in India are subject to sexual abuse..

The illiteracy rate is high for women because families have traditionally placed a priority on educating male children. There is also the expectation that girls should be available to help in the home.

In the workplace there are challenges related to equal pay and fair treatment. However few women employed by the Indian Civil Service anticipated a highly unorthodox request that arguably infringes on their right to privacy. New rules require them to reveal intimate details of their menstrual cycles.

They are expected to provide details in printed form about their "menstrual history", including the "history" of their LMP (last menstrual period). In addition they are expected to provide information about their last "confinement" (maternity leave).

Needless to say a lot of female civil servants are up in arms about this.

The controversial questions show up in new appraisal forms for 2007 issued by the Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. Nobody from the Ministry was available for a media interview although a bureaucrat is quoted in the Hindustan Times as saying that the info gathering was based on advice from health officials.

A number of female employees have refused to divulge their intimate details, and some are planning a letter of protest.

This requirement says a lot about the latitude Indian authorities grant themselves when dealing with female workers. It is not unlike the permission a parent might take when dealing with a child. The presumption that women will meekly comply has clearly been part of the official experience. So it's good to see that this time around the women are saying "here, wait a minute!".

Aidan Maconachy is a freelance writer and artist based in Ontario. You can visit his blog at aidanmaconachyblog.blogspot.com/.

Copyright © 2007 Aidan Maconachy