Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No place for women in "our place"

Te Papa - "our place" - is asking pregnant or menstruating women not to attend one of its tours:

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.

It may very well be - but that doesn't mean it is acceptable - or legal. Te Papa is a public institution. It is therefore bound by section 19 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act not to discriminate. It is also providing public access to its exhibits. This means it is bound by the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender ("which includes pregnancy and childbirth"). While Te Papa may have made agreements with the donors of its exhibits, it cannot contract out of that obligation not to discriminate. Their behaviour is simply unlawful. Neither does phrasing it as a "request" get them off the hook - if a shop "respectfully" requested Maori not to enter, "for their own spiritual protection", we'd call it exactly what it was: racism. This is no different.

(As for the underlying spiritual belief - essentially that pregnant or menstruating women have cooties - I think that deserves all the contempt it gets, both on scientific and moral grounds. And no, its no excuse. The Catholics don't get exempted from human rights legislation for their homophobia and misogyny, and neither should Maori).