Paris pool closes due to ‘pro-burkini’ protest

A public pool in Paris closed this weekend after pro-burkini activists mounted a protest against the ban on the body-covering swimsuit, and demanding “access for all to leisure facilities”.

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Protesters gathered at the pool in the 11th arrondissement on Sunday September 1, holding a banner that read: “Pool for everyone, stop Islamophobia”, and chanting “We will swim, even if racists don’t want us to, we will swim”.

A “burkini” is a set of clothes, made out of swimming costume material, which covers the entirety of the body, except for the face, hands, and feet. It is worn by Muslim women who wish to swim and enter the water without showing their body or hair.

Five Muslim women wearing burkinis entered the pool to swim, supported by other protesters wearing one- and two-piece swimsuits. Most of the protesters were women, although some men, and some who identified as transgender, were also present.

The police were called and the pool was closed to the public for around 30 minutes as the protest was dispersed. No-one was injured and there was no violence.

In a press release, the protesters called for: “a change in internal regulations for pools, and access for all to leisure facilities”. It continued: “Our bodies belong to us, and we will cover and uncover them for our own reasons.”

One woman, who swam in a burkini, denounced “growing islamophobic ideas”, and told news network FranceInfo: “The objective is for us to access the pool as hijab-wearing women. We want to reclaim our choice to wear [the hijab], and to be able to continue our leisure activities without being inconvenienced by discriminatory regulations.”

But in an interview on news channel BMFTV, minister for equality Marlène Schiappa said: “No-one wants to stop women in burkinis from swimming. But put simply, I believe very sincerely and very deeply that the major issue here is respect for rules - it’s the same for people who throw rubbish on the ground [for example].

“If someone wants to cover their hair while swimming, which I do not disagree with, you can simply put on a swimming cap. But each pool has its own internal rules, it is not for me to tell pools what to do. But I am quite disturbed by the fact that these militants have succeeded in making out as though there are millions of French women demanding their right to swim in a burkini.

“I am sorry, I receive hundreds of letters a day, I have worked for 15 years on the question of women’s rights, and it is not true that there are millions of women in France who wake up and thinking, “I want to go the the pool in a burkini”. These are the wishes of a minority...and we should not fall for it.

“We must discriminate no-one; all women should have access to swimming pools, but if the rules say that we must come uncovered and unclothed, then we don’t go out [in the pool] wearing clothes, quite simply. We must respect the rules that exist.”

A similar protest took place in Grenoble, in mid-June.

At the time, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that public pool rules should be respected, and that “no religious belief” should be taken into account to allow people to break these rules.

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