A few years ago, a number of French towns imposed a controversial "burkini ban" targeted at Muslim women. Three years later, a group of Muslim women decided to defy that ban and swim in all *burkini* glory at their local swimming pool.
On Sunday, several women - accompanied by activists from the Alliance Citoyenne (Citizen Alliance) rights group - headed to pools in the southeastern city of Grenoble in their burkinis. They knowingly defied a ban in place, referring to it as a form of discrimination. The women were challenging the ban in hopes that the city would change its policies to accommodate burkinis. Their protest came as part of a campaign that began in May 2018, urging the mayor of the city to reform the policies governing swimming pools.
The two pools were shut down after lifeguards present at the pools asked for it. They did so because they claim their job is to "maintain safety and they can't do that when they have to worry about the crowds."
MP Eric Ciotti - a member of the right-wing Republican Party in France - said that the burkini "has no place in France where women are equal to men."
Another member of the right-wing party, Matthieu Chamussy, claimed that "political Islam is moving forward step by step and the cause of women is receding."
Prior to the shutdown, the lifeguards had approached the women and told them their swimsuits were not allowed. Unfazed by the statement, the women entered the pool and drenched their burkinis.
According to the BBC, the women were later questioned by the police, receiving a fine of $40 for breaching the policies in place.
"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," one Muslim woman told the BBC.
The discrimination extends beyond just the swimming pools. Earlier this year, the French Senate voted to ban religious symbols on school trips. This basically meant that hijabi mothers were prohibited from attending school trips with their kids. The decision was an extension of existing laws in France that prohibit Muslim students from wearing hijabs in primary and secondary schools across France.
In 2016, certain French towns put forth a controversial "burkini ban" citing concerns about "religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country," The Guardian reported at the time.
Just days after the ban became law, four armed French policemen reportedly forced a woman on a beach in Nice to remove the piece of clothing.
"I was sitting on a beach with my family," said Siam, the 34-year old who was identified by her first name only, at the time.
"I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming," she added.
France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the ban both "unconstitutional and ineffective" then, and a French high court has ruled the ban illegal.
But, as the head organizer of the recent protest, Adrien Roux, said:
"It's illegal, but it still happens," in reference to the discriminatory actions taken against Muslim women in particular.
"What's next: no gloves in winter?"
"France has never been a secular country. France is a racist country."
"Why is France so easily triggered?"
It's not just France and burkinis. It's niqabs, too.
Many European countries have banned the niqab, aka face veil, in recent years including France, Denmark, and Belgium.
In 2017, Austria followed in their footsteps by enforcing a burqa ban, prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the outer garment used to cover themselves.
One year later, Algerian authorities also banned women who work in the public sector from wearing niqabs. Ahmed Ouahiya, the country's prime minister, publicized the decision in a letter to other ministers and regional governors, explaining the importance of identification in the workplace.
"Women are obliged to respect the rules and requirements of security and communication which is at the level of their interests," Ouahiya said at the time.