Muslim women defy ban to swim in burkinis at French pool

Katie O'Malley

A group of Muslim women in France have defied a local swimming pool’s ban on wearing burkinis.

On Sunday, the women visited the Jean Bron swimming pool in the city of Grenoble in a protest inspired by civil rights activist Rosa Parks to bathe in suits which cover the majority of their bodies, apart from their faces, hands and feet.

The swimming pool is one of several public locations that bans burkinis, which are a type of modesty swimsuit for women.

The protest, dubbed “Operation burkini”, was launched by members of the group Citizen Alliance of Grenoble last month as a way of protesting what they believe to be their right as women.

According to a Facebook page posted by the organisation, seven women wore burkinis at the pool and they were joined by 30 supporters.

In video footage shared of the protest on social media, several of the women dressed in the apparel can be seen singing, applauding and chanting in the pool.

According to news outlet France Bleu, the protesters spent an hour in the pool and were later questioned by police. They were also fined €35 (£30) for breaking the pool’s rules.

In the Facebook post, the Citizen Alliance explained that the protest was part of a campaign launched in May 2018 with a petition signed by more than 600 Muslim women calling on Éric Piolle, Genoble’s mayor, to reform the rules governing public swimming pools.

Taous Hammouti, a supporter of the protest, said that many Muslim women’s children are punished as a result of the ban because their mothers are unable to access the pool if they wear burkinis.

Quoting Martin Luther King’s words “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’” in the post, Hammouti added that “power needs to be challenged”.

Matthieu Chamussy, a member of France’s centre-right party The Republicans, responded to the protest, calling on Piolle to take action.

“Political Islam is moving forward step by step and the cause of women receding. @EricPiolle what are you going to do?” he tweeted following the protest.

The Citizen Alliance of Grenoble’s actions have divided opinion on Twitter.

One user wrote that when a state violates the basic freedom of women to dress as they want, under the guise of community values, ​​“then civil disobedience becomes legitimate”.

However, others have criticised the wearing of burkinis in public swimming pools.

“The #Burkini has no place in France where women are equal to men,” wrote one user.

Another added: “As an Algerian student, I think the #burkini has no place in the French Republic, and the Muslim community must respect the laws of this country.”

In 2010, France outlawed citizens wearing any form of face covering in public, effectively banning the niqab, a veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women which leaves only the eyes visible.

Last year, the ban was deemed an infringement of human rights in a landmark United Nations ruling.

The UN said it had upheld two complaints made against the French government’s policy of fining women for wearing full-face veils after determining it violated their individual rights.