By Lin Taylor
LONDON, April 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Disco parties, comedy nights, school tours and art exhibitions may be unusual ways to help break the stigma associated with female genitals, but that is exactly what the world's first vagina museum in London plans to do.
After learning in 2017 about the existence of Iceland's Phallological Museum, which displays hundreds of penises from animals, Florence Schechter felt it was only fair if there was a physical building that spotlighted female genitals as well.
So, she decided to make that happen.
Through workshops, talks and social events, Schechter said she wanted to create a space that would bring people together - young and old - to address sensitive issues like female genital mutilation, rape, domestic abuse, and sexual health.
"It's really important because it's a hugely stigmatised part of the body and that leads to some real world consequences," said the museum's director Schechter, who is currently raising funds for the building.
"Just anything and everything that's taboo with that part of the body is what we're going to be addressing."
She said some girls and women feel awkward about getting gynaecological check-ups, such as screenings for cervical cancer, or discussing their periods.
About one in four women in Britain do not attend a cervical screening, according a January survey by charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, with nearly three-quarters of women saying they missed the test due to embarrassment.
Menstruation is still taboo in many countries. In Nepal, women are banished from their homes during their periods - a centuries-old practice that is now illegal - and several have died of smoke inhalation after lighting fires to keep warm.
Schechter said it was important for the museum to cater to children, and plans to run child-friendly programmes for families and schools so they can feel comfortable talking about female genitals at an early age.
"When they're ashamed of their bodies, it becomes really difficult for them to talk about things. It's about destigmatising this part of the body and being honest about what it does," she said.
She added that the museum will be inclusive of all genders because "not everyone who has a vagina is a woman, and not every woman has a vagina".
The Vagina Museum, due to open in November in central London until a permanent location is decided, also aims to run outreach programmes that provide sex education for local communities.
"Having a bricks and mortar museum offers a space for the community to come together to say that this is a part of the body that should be celebrated," said Schechter.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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