There will be no burkini swimsuits allowed in the public pools of Grenoble, France’s highest administrative court has declared. While worn by only a tiny number of individuals in France, the burkini – a head-to-ankle swimsuit worn by certain Muslim women – evokes heated political debate in the country.
Court Upholds Burkini Ban In Grenoble’s Public Pools
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin praised the verdict by the Council of State as a “victory for secularism.” However, other Muslim women denounced it as unfairly targeting their faith and their bodies, and based on outmoded beliefs about Islam.
The “extremely selective exemption to the norms to fulfill religious requests… risks undermining the normal running of public services and fair treatment of their users” the Council of State concluded Tuesday.
Its conclusion confirmed a lower court ruling in May that was spurred by a challenge by the national government to the council’s decision. Led by Green party mayor Eric Piolle, Grenoble had in May modified municipal swimming pool laws to allow all types of bathing suits and for women to bathe topless.
Previously, only traditional swimming attire for women and trunks for males were permissible. In May, Grenoble’s city authorities narrowly voted to repeal many bathing dress rules — including the full-coverage swimsuit typically worn by Muslim women to follow modest norms in their faith.
Grenoble also opted to allow women to swim topless as part of the new eased standards. Soon after the city’s new policy was put into effect, the local administrative court issued an injunction suspending it. Grenoble replied by taking the judgment all the way to France’s Council of State.
On June 21, the top French administrative authority overruled the appeal on the basis of compromising France’s “principle of neutrality of public services”. Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said it was “a win for our ‘separatism’ law, for secularism and above all for the Republic”.
Burkini swimsuits, which cover all body parts save the hands, face, and feet, have been a topic of dispute for years, as opponents have argued that it breaches French official secularism or laïcité, that demands for religious activities to be kept out of the public domain.
French swimsuit restrictions in public pools are tight for secular and hygienic grounds, authorities have declared. Swimming without a cap, baggy swim trunks, and loose attire is also prohibited in many cities. After a southern city instituted a ban on burkinis on public beaches, the UN called on France to lift its prohibition in 2016.
A burkini ban on the French Riviera was overturned six years ago by the Council of State in the wake of public outrage and outrage at the treatment of Muslim women who were asked to remove their modest clothing. A “clear step backward” that will further marginalize women who cover their heads and bodies in public, says Muslim feminist group Lallab’s Fatima Bent.
“Muslim women are not monolithic,” she remarked, despite the fact that some are compelled to cover up by male relatives. Authorities in France have a particular lens through which they view Muslim women. In her words, “politicians who seek to control Muslim women’s bodies” have a “fixation with the body of Muslim women that dates back to colonial times.” There has been no legal challenge to Grenoble’s decision to allow swimmers to go topless in its pool.