From ABC News (Australia)
They call themselves the “Muslim Rosa Parks”. A group of women from the southern French city of Grenoble have launched a series of “swim-ins” in public pools across the city, after Muslim women wearing full length swimsuits known as “burkinis” were systematically denied entry to the pools.
Arriving in small groups, the women deliberately flout existing regulations by taking a swim in what they describe as an act of protest against discriminatory policies.
The city of Grenoble is not alone in prohibiting the so-called “burkini” in public pools. Across France, Muslim women in full length swimsuits are routinely denied access on the grounds their dress code infringes rules of hygiene and/or security.
In 2016, local mayors in several French cities banned women in full length swimsuits from attending public beaches — a ruling subsequently overturned by France’s Council of State for breaching “fundamental freedoms”. And France’s recently passed “anti-separatism” bill flirted with an amendment to prohibit the “burkini” in public pools on the grounds of “secularism and the neutrality of the public space”. Though subsequently rejected, the debate rages on.
According to French legal academic Rim-Sarah Alouane, the law in France currently only permits exclusions from public spaces, such as pools, on very limited grounds — namely hygiene or security. Previous edicts from France’s human rights body have stated that no specific rules can be imposed that would “directly or indirectly prohibit the wearing of the burkini without ‘demonstrable’ reasons to do so.” But a spokesperson for the city of Grenoble said that while their considerations were based on hygiene and security, they were not basing their decisions on particular studies and had not produced any at the local level:
We do not think individual municipalities should have to make this decision. That’s why we have written to the government to request guidance on this issue. We think we should all agree at the national level. The fact the government is staying silent isn’t helpful.
That silence is unlikely to last. With the presidential election looming in 2022, in which incumbent President Emmanuel Macron will likely face off with the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, the burkini is set to flare up once again as part of France’s own culture wars.