The two public swimming pools in southeast France have shut down despite the current heatwave after a row over the use of full-body Islamic “burkini” swimsuits.
Seven burkini-clad women, accompanied by activists from the Alliance Citoyenne rights group, went to the Grenoble pools on Sunday demanding the right to bathe – despite a municipal ban on the swimwear worn by Muslim women. They said the ban was discrimination.
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The women want the public pools, which currently require men to wear swim briefs and women to wear bikinis or one-piece swimsuits, to change their regulations to accommodate burkini wearers.
Eric Ciotti, a member of parliament of the right-wing Republican Party, said on Twitter the burkini “has no place in France where women are equal to men”.
But Alliance Citoyenne likened the women’s action to that of American civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The lifeguards at the pools asked for the shutdown on Wednesday because “they are there to maintain safety and they can’t do that when they have to worry about the crowds” generated by the controversial swimsuits, the town hall said in a statement.
“We are working towards a positive solution” to the problem, it added.
The row is the latest in France over face-and-body-covering garments worn by Muslim women, which many perceive as subjugating women in a country with strict laws on secularism.
France – the country with Europe’s largest Muslim population – was the first European country to ban the full veil in public spaces in 2011.
The European Court of Human Rights upheld the move in 2014, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom.
Earlier this year, French sports retailer Decathlon was forced to back down from a plan to sell a runner’s hijab in France after criticism.
Far-right politicians expressed their opposition to the burkini on Monday, the day after the event in Grenoble.
The burkini was at the centre of a standoff in several French seaside towns three years ago. Some towns banned the garment claiming it was a security threat, only to have the bans later overturned by a court.