The French mayor of Grenoble’s decision to allow Muslim women to wear the burkini in public pools is facing strong opposition from the government, with the Minister of the Interior calling for a legal challenge to the new regulations, describing them as an unacceptable provocation.
The French interior minister said he would seek to change a decision adopted by the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear the burkini in municipal pools.
There is controversy in France about the burkini worn by some Muslim women to cover the legs, arms, and hair- except for the face – while swimming, and its critics see it as a symbol of the spread of radical Islam.
Freedom to practice faith
On Monday, May 16, Alpine city of Grenoble allowed all types of swimwear, not just traditional women’s swimwear and men’s shorts, after a tense debate. There were 29 votes in favour of the measure, with 27 councillors voting against it and two abstentions.
From June 1, Grenoble will relax its rules and allow both women and men to swim topless or wear full-body swimwear for protection from the sun or religious beliefs.
Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, who is one of the country’s most prominent green politicians and leads a broad left-wing coalition, defended the municipality’s move as a victory. “All we want is for men and women to be able to wear whatever they want,” he told RMC radio on Monday.
Strong government opposition
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has ordered legal action against the city for allowing Muslim women to wear the burkini in public swimming pools, and Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation…contradicting our values”, adding that he had demanded a legal challenge to the new regulations.
Darmanin wrote on Twitter that he directed the local official to go to the judiciary to try to overturn the decision, accusing the city’s mayor of “performing an unacceptable provocation that contradicts French values.”
The swimsuit controversy escalated with the first attempts by a number of mayors in southern France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016. The restrictions were eventually scrapped as discriminatory.
The burkini is not prohibited in state-run pools in France for religious reasons but for reasons of hygiene, while swimmers are not legally required to hide their religion while swimming.
It is worth noting that Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules. The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool regulations in 2019 to allow burkini and other types of swimwear.