Male officials in Paris France are dictating what women can wear at the beach. Many people are agreeing with them. French mayors are banning the body-encompassing burkini swimsuit.
France’s secular political class claims that burkinis subjugate women, which is unacceptable with the country’s motto of celebrating equality and freedom for all. Many Muslim women disagree. They see the burkini ban as sexist, racist, and a reaction to terrorism fears.
The burkini swimsuit covers the torso, the limbs, and the head. This bathing wear has prompted a national discussion about the Islamic religion and women’s bodies. At least 5 towns in France have banned burkinis, and other municipalities are predicted to follow suit.
Manuel Valls, France’s Prime Minister, says that the burkini swimsuit reflects a world view based on “the enslavement of women.” Valls said in a local paper recently, that the belief that women’s bodies are impure, and therefore should be covered, was an archaic idea. This idea is not compatible with the values of France.
France’s government has a women’s affairs minister, plus many members of France’s political class from left to right, who agree with the Prime Minister. A local radio host stated that the burkini was not only a question of fashion and liberties, but it made a statement about women’s place in society.
On the other side of the argument, a religious freedom expert at the University of Toulouse, said that the anti burkini brigade is relying on outdated ideas about Islam, which stigmatizes France’s number two religion. Christianity is number one. Born and raised in France, this university expert goes on to say that women have the right in 2016 to dress any way they chose. She claims that Muslim women today might chose to dress modestly in a burkini at the beach, and that’s their right.
Local mayors suggest that burkinis make it difficult to keep society secure and safe. Copious clothing worn at the beach would make a rescue effort very difficult. Hiding weapons under the clothing would be easier for a terrorist. Some say that a burkini ban might enflame religious groups, and social tensions in France would rise even more. An Arab historian suggests that such a ban teaches French society to associate women in burkinis with terrorists.
It was pointed out that before the burkini at the beach became an issue, the French government had banned face covering veils in public, and head scarves in schools.
The Arab historian also points out that women who wear burkinis at the beach today, do so for a few reasons. Some might be wearing them because a man told them they had to, or others might wear them just to be modest. France has millions of Muslims.
The ban carries a small fine at the moment, reflects a fierce attachment to secularism, and the world is puzzled about where exactly France stands on burkinis. Do people in France believe in integration and inclusion, or would the French like women who wear veils, head scarves, and burkinis to remove them?
In other European countries, burkinis are rare, but some still do not permit them, as well as baggy men’s swim trunks, stating that they both cause poor hygiene.
In the end, France’s Prime Minister is not in favor of a nation wide ban on burkinis. Valls calls for the French nation to be calm!
*August 28, 2016 Update