Thursday 13 August 2009

French Muslim woman banned from swimming with ''burkini''

A Muslim woman wearing a "Burkini" -- a full-length lycra suit with head-cover -- was ordered out of a pool in France after staff said it was contrary to the rules.

EMERAINVILLE, 25 KILOMETRES EAST OF PARIS, FRANCE (AUGUST 13, 2009) REUTERS - A French woman wearing a ''Burkini'' was ordered out of the water after the staff at a swimming pool in the suburbs of Paris said the cover-all swimming costume was contrary to the rules.
The woman, known only by the name Carole, told French daily newspaper 'Le Parisien' she bought the full-length lycra suit with hijab head-covering in the United Arab Emirates.

Carole, who converted to Islam at the age of 17, said she wanted to enjoy a swim while fully respecting the rules of Islam.

Because she thought the cover-all bathing suit might shock some secular populations in France, she said she called a few swimming pools first to check which one would accept her.

"I called several swimming pools to see if they accepted cover-all swimming costumes. Two categorically answered no and the one in Emery said I should come along to check the material of the bathing suit to see if they could authorize it. I was able to enter the swimming pool twice and the third time, I was told it was forbidden. They didn't accept cover-all swimming costume anymore," Carole told 'Le Parisien'.

Carole said she didn't want to create a religious or political problem.

"I didn't show up at the pool with this swimming costume thinking 'I will make new headlines about the hijab', not at all. My only battle is to be able to swim with my children. My children were happy to finally be able to swim with their mother. That's my only battle. It's not a political battle or a religious one. It has nothing to do with that," Carole said.

The two-piece "burkini," popular in the Middle East, first appeared in Australia in 2007.

The full-length lycra suit with hijab head-covering is not too figure hugging to embarrass, but is tight enough to allow its wearer to swim freely, the manufacturer said when promoting the suit in Australia.

The local authority managing the swimming pool said the burkini was not in line with regulations in French swimming pools.

Daniel Guillaume, the regional vice president for sports and leisure, said Carole should never have been allowed to enter the pool with the burkini in the first place.

"The rules in French swimming pools, public and private, prohibit boxing shorts, tee-shirts, shorts, bermudas, and this lady unfortunately came-fully dressed. The first time, she was able to swim because of a lack of attention on our side so we are talking to our staff, and the second time the manager made it clear to her and showed her the rules and she didn't like the fact that she couldn't swim fully-dressed and here we are, she is lodging a complaint," Guillaume said.

Carole told 'Le Parisien' she tried to lodge a formal complaint with the local police authorities but they suggested she should register the complaint with the police.

France may introduce a law banning full burqas if a parliamentary commission finds the growing number of women wearing them have been coerced into doing so.

Nearly 60 legislators signed a proposal in June 2009 calling for a parliamentary commission to look into the spread of the burqa in France, a garment that they said amounted "to a breach of individual freedoms on our national territory".

France, home to Europe's largest Muslim minority, is strongly attached to its secular values and to gender equality, and many see the burqa, which covers the wearer from head to toe and hides her face, as an infringement of women's rights and is increasingly being imposed by fundamentalists.

The country has been divided by fierce debates about how to reconcile those principles with religious freedom.

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