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Can I Join You in the Pool – A Question that Muslim Women Are Asking in France

September 2nd, 2009

I recently read an article about  a woman who tried to go swimming in a head to toe burquini.  Burquinis are swim attire designed for Muslim women to allow them to swim in public while following her religious requirement of being fully covered in public. The woman felt that she was being segregated. For many years religious attire has been a hot topic in France as many news agencies have reported about the banning of the head scarves schools and public settings.

The pool officials insisted that it was not the woman who was being banned, but that her swimsuit was not allowed based on Frances strict hygiene rules for pools. The issue brings up some every interesting questions. Firstly, I have worked closely with a number of Muslim women and have always wondered how they can become fit while they participate in community activities that relate to sport. Many believe that Koranic law requires that women be covered from head-to-toe in public. When I heard about the Burquini it seemed to be a solution that could allow for physical activity that many women yearn for. As I read more about France’s hygiene requirement banning full dress in pools, I began to see a direct conflict. And that door that was beginning to open for Muslim women slammed shut.

How can these women get their needs met?  How can they swim and hike and participate in community life?  How different is a wetsuit that covers one from head to toe, but is reserved in most cases for pools or the sea from a burquini?  Is a traditional wetsuit condemned from pools?  How much of Frances’ hygiene rules truly relate to hygiene and how much of the rule is discriminatory or limiting?  Many believe that their recent banning of full head scarves in public was discriminatory?

I believe that it is time for Muslim women to speak out and to let their needs be known. It is essential that they stand up for their rights to use public facilities as they rest at ease the minds of those concerned with hygiene issues.  A mutually agreeable solution that can allow women the freedom that they need to create or maintain good health through physical activity and open participation in their community is possible. There must be a way to find common ground.

Maureen Simon