A group of Muslim women in France has defied their city’s burkini laws by sporting the swimwear at a public pool — a protest they say was inspired by U.S. civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
On Sunday, several women in the city of Grenoble headed to the Jean Bron swimming pool wearing suits that covered their entire bodies apart from their face, hands and feet.
The pool is one of many in France that forbids burkinis. Some French politicians argue that burkinis, as well as face-covering veils, do not reflect the country’s secularism and should be banned for security purposes.
The protest was organized by the group Citizen Alliance of the Greater Grenoble Area, which says seven women and 30 others acting in solidarity disobeyed the pool’s ban to advocate for the civil rights of Muslims.
The group began protesting the swimwear ban in May 2018, it wrote on Facebook, when it started a petition asking Grenoble’s mayor to reform the city’s burkini rules.
“To defend the freedom of religion and the freedom of women to cover or uncover their bodies, they are inspired by Rosa Parks and decided to continue their campaign of civil disobedience during an assembly… last Sunday,” the alliance wrote in French.
French outlet France Bleu reports the women were told by staff that they were not allowed to wear burkinis at the pool and that that type of bathing suit was prohibited.
The outlet says that pool staff did not physically prevent the women from getting into the water but called police. The women were reportedly fined 35 euros each.
As reported by the BBC, two of the Muslim women involved in the burkini protest told the outlet they should have the same rights as other citizens.
“We have a dream: to have fun in public swimming pools like all other citizens, to accompany our children whenever they want to have a swim while it is very hot in the summer here in Grenoble,” they told the BBC.
“We must fight against discriminatory policies and prejudice in France, as we are actually deprived of our civil rights of access to public services and city-owned infrastructures.”
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France was the first country in western Europe to ban face-covering attire in public, including the burqa and niqab, in 2011.
In 2016, after multiple French towns banned burkinis, the UN human rights office denounced the local bans and said they amounted to “a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms.” The UN also called them a “stupid reaction” to extremist attacks.
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UN spokesperson Rupert Colville said such bans “fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatization of Muslims.”
Many officials, including former prime minister Manuel Valls, have argued that burkinis oppress women and are not symbolic of France’s cultural and societal beliefs.
In 2016, France’s top court overturned a ban on burkinis in the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet, yet many municipalities still forbid the swimwear.
—With a file from the Associated Press