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Civil right campaigners defy ‘burkini’ ban in France

26th Jul 2019
Civil right campaigners defy ‘burkini’ ban in France

Alliance Citoyenne members defy the ‘burkini’ ban in Grenoble, France (Photo: Alliance Citoyenne /CC)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The two swimming pools in Grenoble, southeast France, closed on June 27 following an escalating row over the use of full-body ‘burkini’ swimsuit. On May 28, Muslim women clad in burkinis went swimming in the pools as part of an anti-ban campaign by civil rights group Alliance Citoyenne.

In a statement, the town hall said the lifeguards asked for the shutdown because “they are there to maintain safety and they can’t do that when they have to worry about the crowds,” generated by the swimsuits. “Officials are working towards a positive solution,” added the statement.

The row is the latest in France over garments worn by Muslim women, which many perceive as subjugating women in a country with strict laws on secularism.
France — which has Europe’s largest Muslim population — was the first European country to ban the full-face veil (niqab) in public spaces in 2011. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in 2014, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom.

Far-right politicians expressed their opposition to the burkini in Grenoble. Seven burkini-clad women, accompanied by activists, went to the Grenoble pools demanding the right to bathe despite the facility’s rules. They said the ban was discrimination.

The women want the public pools, which currently require men to wear swim briefs and women to wear bikinis or one-piece swimsuits, to change their regulations to accommodate burkini wearers.

Local parliamentarian Éric Ciotti, of the rightwing Republicans party, said that the burkini “has no place in France where women are equal to men. But the Alliance Citoyenne likened the women’s action to that of African American civil rights icon Rosa Parks who played a pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

In August 2016, the Mayor of Cannes banned the swimsuits, citing a possible link to extremism. At least 20 other French towns, including Nice, subsequently joined the ban.
Dozens of women have subsequently issued fines, with some tickets citing not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”, and some were verbally attacked by bystanders when they were confronted by the police.

Enforcement of the ban also hit beachgoers wearing a wide range of modest attire besides the burkini. Media reported that in one case armed police forced a woman to remove the burkini she was wearing over her clothes on a beach in Nice.

A spokesman for French Council of the Muslim Faith told The Muslim News he was “concerned over the direction the public debate is taking”, citing the “growing fear of stigmatisation of Muslims in France.

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