French court’s ban on burkini sparks a debate

french courts ban on burkini sparks a debate
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Publié le 1 juillet 2022, par Samir | 13 h 22 min
Temps de lecture : 5 minutes

French court’s ban on the burkini, a head-to-toe swimsuit, at public pools in the French city of Grenoble sparks a debate as it impacts all women, not just Muslim women, The Wall Street Journal reported.

French Muslim women often experience obstacles accessing public places due to obligations to exhibit their religious beliefs. Human rights advocates and the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) have been heavily criticizing these kinds of bans.

French court’s ban on burkini sparks a debate.

« The new rules of procedure for the municipal swimming pools of Grenoble affect (…) the proper functioning of the public service and undermines the equal treatment of users so that the neutrality of public service is compromised, » the Conseil d’Etat issued a statement.

After multiple protests by French Muslim women, the city issued a mandate in May 2021. It allowed swimmers at public pools in Grenoble to wear swimsuits. But later, the administrative tribunal took the decision back in a ruling confirmed by the French top administrative court on June 21, 2022.

Burkini – a gesture of modesty

Muslim women at large wear burkinis as a gesture of modesty and to preserve their faith. It is full-length swimwear that covers most of the body parts except the face, hands, and feet. However, the court said in a ruling that it could not permit « very selective exception to the rules to satisfy religious demands … risks affecting the proper functioning of public services and equal treatment of their users ».

This decision sparked outrageous debate as netizens are unhappy about the burkini ban.

One tweep responded:

« In many countries around the world, to prevent sun damage, many wear similar coverings, including bathing caps… there is only one interpretation of this ruling – Racism. »

Another human rights activist said in a tweet:

« I disagree with this entirely. »

Phil Holloway, Criminologist, and Police Lawyer shared his disagreement on the burkini ban in his tweet:

‘French court bans burkinis, doesn’t block city allowing topless women in public swim areas. « allowing burkini swimwear-a full-length, modest swimsuit worn by Muslim women-would violate the nation’s secular governance and laws against religious influence.’

What is a burkini?

Burkini was launched in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese-Australian fashion designer. The core aim of designing this costume was to offer swimwear clothing to Muslim women so they can swim at public pools in Australia without compromising their modesty and religious beliefs.

However, this piece of garment has become a controversial subject since then. France, which boasts itself as a secular nation, has labeled it a sign of religious extremism. Full-length swimwear is not only religious, but women can wear it due to several other reasons to enjoy the beach lifestyle and public pools.

RaegeOmar, Social Science Researcher, mentioned Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, in his tweet and said:

« A woman’s right to wear what she wants must also be protected! Your supreme court ruled against burkini swimwear! Perhaps you can focus on the rights of French women! »

Amnesty EU

Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office shared its views and said:

« A French court yesterday endorsed discrimination against Muslim women in Grenoble. It upheld a ruling banning the wearing of the full-body « #burkini » in Grenoble’s public pools. The city had proposed to allow women to wear what they want when swimming in its public pools. »

Nils Muiz, Europe Regional Director at Amnesty and former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, responded to the ruling:

« Prohibiting certain women from swimming in public pools purely based on their choice of swimwear is punitive, discriminatory, and a violation of their Human Rights. »

Amnesty EU continued and said:

« Women should be able to wear whatever they want. Yet in France, women, and particularly Muslim women, are being repeatedly and maliciously targeted by successive rules policing their dress.

France is legally bound to remove, not create, obstacles to women accessing public life. The court justified its decision based on the 2021 LoiSeparatisme. Since its proposal, amnesty has been concerned that this vague law will violate people’s Human Rights, especially Muslim people & associations. »

The new image of the Muslim hijab, now popularly expanded to burkini swimwear, is still a matter of debate in the political discourse. It is happening where the Senate approved a ban on hijab on minors in 2021.

All women must show their skin.

The French government’s swimwear rule doesn’t only impact Muslims. It is a message for all other women, regardless of religion, that they must expose their skin to enjoy the beach lifestyle. This obligation is unacceptable to most women as they might not be comfortable due to skin issues, sun exposure, or other body-related insecurities.

Why is it a sign of France’s secular approach?

The heated debate on burkini has exposed France’s approach to religion and secularism. When the new rule was enacted last month, Laurent Wauqiez, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes regional council’s head, pressurized to stop sending funds to the city. He accused the mayor of making deals with political Islam to get votes. He said, « I am convinced that what Mr. Piolle is defending is a dreadful dead-end for our country. »

A law passed in 1905 separated the church and state based on the state’s neutral approach to religious views and freedom of religion. In 2004 a law on secularity was passed that forbids individuals from wearing visible religious signs in public schools. According to critics, the ban targeted Muslim women and the veil. In 2021, France approved a debatable « anti-separatism » bill prohibiting hate speech and sponsoring religious groups. This bill is still critically discussed for targeting religious choice and against Islam.

Critics say France has been struggling with secularism due to an incorrect portrayal of the 1905 law. Its purpose was the state’s neutrality on religious affairs instead of individuals.

What were other major burkini controversies?

In 2019, seven women protested against the ban by jumping into a pool wearing burkinis. It sparked controversy, and the French Prime Minister said that the current rules must be implemented. The same year, Decathlon, the world leader in sports, faced controversy after its announcement to launch a new « sports hijab » for women runners.

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