The French government wants to block burkinis in swimming pools

A woman at the beach wearing a burkini. —AFP
  • The all-in-one swimsuit, worn by some Muslim women, is controversial in France.
  • In the past, restrictions were eventually overturned because they were discriminatory.
  • Burkinis are not banned in French public swimming pools for religious reasons, but for hygienic reasons.

PARIS: France‘s interior minister said on Tuesday he would seek to reverse a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in public swimming pools.

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their body and hair while bathing, is controversial in France where critics see it as a symbol of Islamization.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of swimwear, not just the traditional women’s swimsuits and men’s boxer shorts that were previously compulsory.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called the change “unacceptable provocation” and “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law aimed at countering ‘Islamist separatism’ passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects undermine France’s strict secular traditions of separating religions of State.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 sparked the first storm around swimwear.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s most prominent green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, defended the city’s decision as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress as they wish,” Piolle told the TV station. CMR Monday.

EELV party leader Julien Bayou argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which require state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the right of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French public swimming pools for religious reasons, but for hygienic reasons, while swimmers have no legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe in it, and I want them to be able to bathe,” he added. “I also want them to have fewer demands on how to dress one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its swimming pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.