France makes a decision: It does not allow women "dressed" on the beach, but allows them topless

3 min read

France's highest administrative court ruled on Tuesday that it would not allow burqa to cover the body in public swimming pools for religious reasons, arguing that it violates the government's principle of neutrality over religion.

While worn by only a small number of people in France, the burqa from head to toe attracts strong political debates in the country, rtv21.tv reports.

Interior Minister Gerald Darman hailed the Council of State decision as a "victory for secularism." Some Muslim women condemned it as an unjust target of their faith and bodies and based on outdated misunderstandings about Islam.

The city of Grenoble, led by a mayor from the Green party, voted last month to allow women to wear burqas in public swimming pools following a campaign by local activists. The city also voted to allow women to swim topless, as part of a wider relaxation of bathing suit rules.

The prefect, or senior government official, for the Grenoble region blocked the burqa decision, arguing that it contradicted the secular principles of France.

The Council of State backed the mayor's move on Tuesday, saying in a statement that Grenoble's vote was "to satisfy a religious demand" and "undermines the neutrality of public services".

The decision was the first under a controversial law, backed by President Emmanuel Macron, aimed at protecting "republican values" from what his government calls the threat of religious extremism.

Dress codes in public swimming pools in France are strict, for what the authorities say are hygienic reasons: hats are required and bathing suits with bag or other voluminous clothing are generally prohibited. Water coats are also not allowed in many pools, as are some sun protection suits.

Some cities and towns allow burqas in public pools. The city of Rennes is among them, but its decision was aimed at freeing the rules of bathing suits and not based on religious reasons.

The mayor of Grenoble argued that women should be able to wear what they want and express their religious beliefs in pools as on the street. Opponents of the burqa - which includes local officials from the far right but also the left - have argued that swimwear represents the oppression of women and a potential gateway to Islamic radicalism.

For Fatima Bent of the Muslim feminist group Lallab, Tuesday's decision is "a clear step backwards" that will further isolate women who cover their heads and bodies in public.

Grenoble's decision on topless swimming has not been filed in court./ 21Media