While the French are banning the burkini (a swimsuit that covers Muslim women like a burka), various English pools are requiring women to don covering from their necks to ankles –men are required to cover up from their navels to their knees. During these hours, men and women are barred if they are not wearing “modest” coverings in line with the Muslim traditions.
In Croyton, swimmers are told that “during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists”. In North Lincolnshire, “users must follow the required dress code for this session (T-shirts and shorts/leggings that cover below the knee)”. Presumably, the “mankini” will not be allowed during those hours.
The special sessions raise a different issue than France. The French are, in my view, wrong to prevent women from wearing the outfits in order to use the public pools. For these women, if they are not allowed to wear these outfits, they cannot enjoy public pools.
The English policy, however, has people objecting to the exclusion of men and women from the pool who are unwilling to adhere to a religiously based modesty rule — even for just part of the day. One obvious approach is to allow swimmers to don both regular swimsuits or Islamic swimsuits but not to ban either preference during special hours — leaving the pool open to the public to enjoy as they see fit.
This issue has come up in other contexts, such as a recent controversy over restricted use of gymnasium facilities at Harvard. Ironically, in Saudi Arabia, even the concept of women working out in their own segregated areas are viewed as intolerable, here.
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