Explained: Why a court in France has upheld ban on burkinis in Grenoble & More Breaking News


Nearly a month after the eastern city of Grenoble in France announced it was authorising all swimwear in public pools, including the more conservative ‘burkini’ worn mostly by Muslim women, France’s highest administrative court rejected the city’s appeal and upheld a ban on the full-body covering swimsuit.

The French Council of State on Tuesday said it could not allow “elective exceptions to the rules to satisfy religious demands”, adding that permitting the burkini would undermine “the equal treatment of users, so that the neutrality of the public service is compromised”.

Despite France’s strict rules on the type of swimming costumes permitted at public pools, Grenoble had first permitted the burkini following a series of protests led by Muslim women in 2021.

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What is a burkini?

A mix of the words ‘burka’ and ‘bikini’, it is a full-body swimsuit that covers everything except the face, hands and feet. They are mainly used by Muslim women so that they are able to swim in public, while being able to protect their modesty.

Why is the burkini banned in France?

The French government has strict rules about what sort of swimsuit can be worn in public pools. The top administrative court banned the burkini, arguing that it violates the principle of government neutrality toward religion, The Associated Press reported.

While several Muslim women condemned the court’s ruling, the country’s conservative Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin hailed it as a “victory for secularism”.

French authorities claim they impose strict clothing rules at public pools due to reasons of hygiene. Swimming caps are compulsory, and men are not permitted to wear baggy swim trunks. Baggy swimsuits, wetsuits or sun protection suits are not allowed.

Notably, France was the first country in western Europe to impose a ban on face-covering Islamic veils in 2010. France’s laws are built on preserving secularism, and the separation between religion and state. Religious markers — including turbans, hijabs, scull caps and crucifixes — are not permitted in French schools or offices.

Why have Grenoble authorities run into trouble?

Acting on a proposal put forth by Grenoble’s ecologist mayor Eric Piolle, the city’s municipal council had voted in favour of permitting the use of all kinds of swimsuits on May 16. The decision, which did not explicitly mention burkinis, prompted widespread protests among conservative and right-wing politicians and groups.

Apart from the burkini, the Grenoble municipal council’s decision meant that people were permitted to wear any kind of swimsuit — including allowing men or women to fully cover themselves, or women to go topless in the same way men are able to.

The Grenoble Mayor, who is the leader of a broad left-wing coalition, argued that women should be able to wear what they want and express their religious beliefs in public. But right-wing leaders have argued that the swimwear represents the oppression of women.

But the top government official, the prefect, for the Grenoble region blocked the decision, arguing that it was not in line with France’s secular ideals. The Council of State upheld the prefect’s decision, claiming that the Grenoble municipal council’s vote harmed the neutrality of public services.

However, the Grenoble municipal council’s decision about swimming topless was not mentioned in the court’s ruling.

France’s top administrative body ruled Tuesday against allowing body-covering “burkini” swimwear in public pools for religious reasons. (AP Photo, File)

Do other French towns allow the burkini?

A few towns and cities have permitted burkinis in public pools. These include the city of Rennes, where authorities sought to expand swimwear rules.

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