May 24, 2018 / 9:33 AM / 7 months ago

Menstruation magazine cover sparks censorship row in New Zealand

KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A New Zealand university has apologised after it seized hundreds of copies of a campus magazine that featured a cover on menstruation, sparking anger from students saying the move reinforced social stigmas and amounted to censorship.

The University of Otago said its staff this week removed 500 copies of the latest edition of student magazine Critic - which included a cartoon character bleeding from the genitals on the cover - over fears that it was “objectionable to many people”.

Calling it a censorship, the editor of the weekly magazine said the “menstruation issue” was meant to debunk common myths, and it included articles on free sanitary products and the availability of sanitary bins on campus.

“The intention was to break taboos and encourage open discussion about menstruation,” the editor, Joel MacManus, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

“It unfortunately shows that natural bodily functions and women’s bodies are still being censored. Menstruation is clearly still a taboo in New Zealand,” he added.

MacManus said the “menstruation issue” came about after a local charity approached the magazine, which was founded in 1925 and has a circulation of 4,500 copies, with the idea of raising awareness.

The University of Otago, the country’s oldest, said its representatives met with the staff of Critic and apologised.

The decision to remove the issue was “regrettable”, the university said in a statement posted on Twitter, but added that it was aware of some views that the magazine cover was “degrading to women”.

The incident came as more than 30 countries prepare to observe Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, which is part of a taboo-busting campaign by the Germany-based charity WASH United.

In many countries, menstruation is considered embarrassing and shameful.

Globally 1.25 billion women do not have access to a toilet during menstruation, according to the non-profit WaterAid. As a result, some girls miss classes during their periods and eventually drop out of school.

In New Zealand, campaigners including The Salvation Army have launched donation drives to help provide girls with sanitary products, as some skip classes because they cannot afford them.

The girls resort to using old clothes, rags and newspapers instead, putting their health at risks, the campaigners said. (Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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