Pregnant women warned off Te Papa tour

01:31, Oct 12 2010
Kirstin Dally
Kirstin Dally
Megan Turner
Megan Turner
Megan Turner
Megan Turner
Kate Tarrant
Kate Tarrant
Alice McKeen
Alice McKeen
Brian Spiers
Brian Spiers

Te Papa's stance opposing pregnant and menstruating staff from joining a tour is "too PC" and "awkward", members of the public spoken to by Stuff say.

Wellington's Te Papa says it is advising pregnant or menstruating women against attending one of its tours, which includes sacred Maori objects, "for their own safety."

An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa's collections included the condition that "wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]" were unable to attend.

Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

But members of the public spoken to by Stuff were confused, and some outraged, by Te Papa's request.

Wellington mother Kirstin Dally said she thought being pregnant was irrelevant "in this day and age."

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"I'd understand if it was on a marae or something, but it's not, it's at the museum. It's just too PC."

Friends Megan Turner, Stephanie Luxton and Kate Tarrant called the situation "awkward."

"I'd be like, that is none of your business. That's private," Megan said.

"But then I probably wouldn't go in because it's cultural and...just awkward."

"How are they going to know anyway? It's not like they can check," said Kate.

Wellington student Alice McKeen was outraged.

"I think it's stupid. If a pregnant woman puts herself at risk, in a situation where she could be harmed then that's her choice."

"You know, they say we have freedom of speech and freedom of movement but we don't. There's so many stupid rules and regulations."

And women weren't the only ones getting upset.

"That's bloody ridiculous," said businessman Brian Spires.

"It's sexist for a start. And discriminatory. If I were those women, I'd be insulted."

Bartender Jack Butler said it was wrong to stop pregnant women from doing anything.

"They should be able to do what everyone else can."

Musician Mike Doherty agreed, saying "you should respect traditions but in this day and age...it's going too far."

The only person Stuff spoke to who wasn't completely taken aback by the request wouldn't give her name, but said if it was a custom, is should be adhered to.

"It wouldn't worry me. But that might be because I know quite a lot about Maori culture."

Te Papa insists the request is not an outright ban and is defending the move.

"There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals. That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women," Keig said.

She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.

"Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects."

Women who plan to attend the tour on November 5 are expected to be honest about whether they are pregnant or menstruating as a sign of respect to Maori beliefs.

"If there are pregnant women who want to go on the tour we don't stop them. But we do prefer they respect the belief." Keig said.

The policy is not in place for the general exhibition.

The email sent to regional museums offered women who were pregnant or menstruating the chance to go on the tour at another time.

Feminist blogger Boganette said she was disgusted by the museum's stance.

"It's disgusting that in this day and age women can be told they're "forbidden" for menstruating or being pregnant. It's a completely archaic belief that is oppressive to all women."

She said she would encourage women who are pregnant and menstruating to attend the event. 

"Are they going to check to see if a woman is menstruating? A belief that there is something wrong with women if they are menstruating or pregnant is ridiculous. "

"Te Papa is taxpayer funded. It's a public museum that is supposed to be inclusive of everyone. Religious and cultural beliefs should be ignored if they're going to insult or oppress women for any reason."

However, Margaret Mutu, head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, said women should not be offended by the request.

"The reproduction area is extremely powerful and can do damage to things that are not tapu. It's about the power of women, not about stopping them."

Mutu said the objects were obviously dangerous and the hapu they came from would have told the museum about how to treat them.

"They are tapu and pregnant or menstruating women are tapu. It would be very unwise to put the two up against each other."

Mutu said in her hapu, women were also prevented from going onto gardens or fishing areas while tapu.

Stuff