Former ACT MP Donna Awatere-Huata made an appearance on TVNZ today to show support for a decision by Te Papa to respect Maori culture and advise menstruating women to opt out of an upcoming exhibit tour.
An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections on November 5 included the condition that “wahine (women) who are either hapu (pregnant) or mate wahine (menstruating)” should not attend.
Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the rule was imposed to respect Maori beliefs surrounding the Taonga Maori collection.
“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.”
If an object is tapu it is “forbidden”, and in Maori culture it is believed that if that tapu is not observed, something bad will happen.
Maori regard pregnant or menstruating women as sacred, and the policy was aimed at protecting them from the objects.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson was questioned about the stance during the week and said he understood it was an advisory requested by iwi, rather than an instruction.
She said her upbringing had taught her that historically, Maori women would have taken time out from their day-to-day responsibilities when menstruating, but in more recent times they didn’t have the luxury of being able to do that.
While it was good to see Te Papa raising the issue and being respectful, it also needed to be noted that women shouldn’t be “demonised just for being women”.
Asked if Mr Finlayson had missed an opportunity to tell New Zealand about respecting Maori culture, Ms Awatere-Huata said he appeared to have found the issue difficult to respond to.
It’s like John Key when he was with Paul Henry the other day, he’s shell-shocked and I think the minister of culture and heritage is shell-shocked because they haven’t been on this journey.”