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POLITICS

French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

France's interior minister said on Tuesday that he would seek to overturn a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in state-run swimming pools.

French government aims to block 'burkinis' in swimming pools
Members of the pro-burkini association « Alliance Citoyenne » watch the Municipal Council on a TV screen as members of the municipal council vote to allow or not the wearing of the burkini in the city’s swimming pools, in Grenoble on May 16, 2022. (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men which were mandated before.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that was “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects of undermining France’s strict secular traditions that are meant to separate religions from the state.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC on Monday.

The head of the EELV party, Julien Bayou, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which oblige state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the rights of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French state-run pools on religious grounds, but for hygiene reasons, while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe, and I would like them to be able to go swimming,” he added. “I want them also to suffer less demands to dress in one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

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HEALTH

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.

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