The decision by another French city to allow women to wear head-to-toe swimwear at public pools – dubbed burkinis – has once again reignited the contentious debate over religious clothing in France.
Grenoble in southeastern France became the second city in the country to allow the wearing of burkinis – worn by some Muslim women – following a modification to swimwear rules for public pools late Monday. The vote on the local city council was close, 29-27, following two-and-a-half hours of fierce debate, BFMTV news reported.
The changes do away with restrictions on non-standard clothing, thereby letting women swim either in burkinis or, alternately, bare-breasted.
Most city councils prohibit burkinis and bathing topless at public swimming pools, citing hygiene reasons. Rennes, in the northwestern region of Brittany, is the only other city to allow burkinis in public places.
While there is no nationwide ban on the wearing of burkinis, the swimwear has evoked the ire of far-right lawmakers, who consider its wearing in public places “submission” to what they call “extreme Islam.” After several mayors on the famed French riviera attempted to impose a ban, in 2016 the Council of State authorized the wearing of burkinis on French beaches.
Erick Piolle, Grenoble’s ecologist mayor who proposed modification to the swimwear, said of the swimwear rules: “Only health and safety rules (should) count.”
Piolle defended the right for everyone to “dress or undress” as they wish as long as hygiene and safety are respected. In an interview with the non-profit association La Libre Pensee, he said the issue doesn’t concern only Muslim women but also trans people who are uncomfortable wearing bikinis. He cited the example of Norwegian beach volleyball players who protested their bikini shorts uniform during the 2021 European Championship.
But the city council decision also attracted criticism, accusing Piolle of pandering to a so-called “separatist ideology.” Laurent Wauquiez, president of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, where Grenoble is located, threatened to cut financial subsidies to the council for breaking away from “secularism and values of the republic.”
Far-right lawmaker Erick Ciotti, who has introduced a bill to impose a nationwide ban on burkinis at public swimming pools, said Grenoble’s decision underlines the need to guard against what he called France’s “submission to Islamo-leftism.”
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally and loser in last month’s presidential election, said that her party's representatives will defend the ban on burkinis as “Piolle wants to subject the republic to Islamic pressure.”