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The World’s Most Powerful Women: July 12

It’s time for me to bang my anti-menstrual leave drum again.

A company called Culture Machine, a media firm based in Mumbai with 75 employees, just introduced First Day of Period, an initiative that gives women the first day of their monthly cycles off. The program is aimed at making the workplace more women-friendly.

The company has also launched a petition urging India’s ministry of HR development and the ministry of women and child development to establish a similar policy. “We, the women at Culture Machine, have the privilege, if we may call it that, to apply for a leave on the day when the discomfort is unmanageable, no questions asked,” the petition says. “Now, we want the rest of the women in India to have the same right.” At last count, the petition had garnered some 25,000 signatures.

Other countries have considered measures like Culture Machine’s. In March, Italy’s parliament weighed giving women an official menstrual leave. An argument I made against that proposal is also relevant in this case:

By all means, let’s eliminate the taboo surrounding menstruation in the workplace and in society at large. The stigma is a matter of life and death in some cultures, where menstruating women are still banished from communities, with [as you’ll see below] sometimes fatal results. And access to paid sick days is a vital resource for workers who need time to remedy all kinds of ailments.

But asking employers to specifically accommodate women’s most mundane biological attribute—while helpful to those who suffer severe pain—seems overall like a retrograde request, especially considering how far women have come without it. Plus, these kinds of policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able.

That last point is—as it was in Italy—especially relevant in India, where the culture is so acutely patriarchal and rife with gender discrimination that a photographer’s project last month gained traction for honestly asking whether India cares more about cows or women. Sexual harassment against women is an epidemic in the real world and the virtual one.

Against that backdrop, menstrual leave could serve as an additional means for bias by discouraging businesses from hiring women; hire men who don’t need this time off instead. A mothers-only maternity leave benefit provides the same incentive, and it just so happens India passed such a measure earlier this year.

Certainly, a policy—or the mission behind it—shouldn’t be abandoned just because employers may abuse it. But in advocating for Culture Machine’s new leave initiative, Devleena S. Majumder, the company’s president of HR, identified what I see as another huge strike against a benefit that seeks accommodation for a trait generations of women have learned to live with. Period pain, she says, “is not an embarrassment. This is part of life.”




Telling her sideRussian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya gave her account of her meeting with Donald Trump Jr., reports of which have reignited suspicion of possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. She denied any connection to the Kremlin and insisted that she never had any dirt on Trump opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. later tweeted the email exchange that led to the sit-down.Fortune


Positively outrageous
Iberia, a Spanish airline, is finally dropping a requirement that all female job candidates undergo a pregnancy test. It’s eliminating the step in the hiring process after being fined for discrimination. But up until now, the airline had argued that it ensured the safety of flight attendants since expectant mothers are advised against flying later in their pregnancies. Government and union officials, meanwhile, decried it as sexist.
New York Times

Message malfunction
Fortune‘s Kristen Bellstrom weighs in on the U.S.’s visa denial of Afghanistan’s girls robotics team, arguing that the government’s rejection seems to contradict the Trump administration’s very public advocacy of women’s economic development abroad.



Real or just rhetoric?
Philanthropist Melinda Gates told a family planning summit in London yesterday that she’s “deeply troubled” by President Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding for family planning, which could jeopardize progress made on expanding services to women in some of the poorest parts of the world. “If empowering women is more than just rhetoric for the president, he will prove it by funding family planning,” she said.

The price is right
Pepsi Co. beat profit estimates in the second quarter, in part, by deploying a strategy to raise the price of its sodas and snacks in North America. Pepsi and rival Coca-Cola have focused on selling smaller, higher-margin packs in developed markets to cope with falling demand for fizzy drinks. “I think where the market is today, when we can take pricing, we should take the pricing,” said CEO Indra Nooyi, adding that the company is working to make its snack portfolio more premium.

A long time coming
Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor announced on Monday that HBO has optioned her acclaimed novel Who Fears Death, a post-apocalyptic tale set in a future Sudan, with George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame as an executive producer. “Note: This did not happen overnight,” wrote the first generation Nigerian American. “It’s been nearly 4 years coming.”
Huffington Post


The chhaupadi curse continues
Another woman has died while enduring the Nepali tradition of chhaupadi, the sequestering of menstruating women that the country’s supreme court outlawed in 2005. Tulasi Shahi, 18, was bitten by a poisonous snake while staying in her uncle’s hut. Despite the ruling against the practice of chhaupadi more than a decade ago, it remains common in rural Nepal, where menstruating women are considered impure and sources of bad luck. A parliamentary bill criminalizing the custom is still pending.
New York Times

Very uncool
Employees of Cool Japan, a government-backed investor in businesses that promote Japanese culture, are accusing a senior executive of seeking dates and trips with women working there. The claims are especially notable since Cool Japan is the largest investor in the Japan-focused fund of 500 Startups, whose co-founder Dave McClure resigned earlier this month amid allegations of sexual harassment. At the same time, the accusations are not necessarily out of the ordinary: a government study found that 29% of women in Japan are harassed at work.


Mika Brzezinski has landed a huge book deal
Page Six

European Court of Human Rights upholds Belgium’s ban on full-face veils

Amanda Levete is on the shortlist of architects vying to design London’s new Center for Music
New York Times

Nearly half of Americans have changed their behavior because of online harassment

On Trump’s golf course, U.S. Women’s Open contenders will feel the heat
New York Times


“I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful. So whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that, then I know that I can contend for titles every time.”
—Tennis star Venus Williams, 37, after reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals yesterday.