France’s interior minister said on Tuesday he would try to change a rule in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkini in state-run swimming pools.
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 crimping Islamization.
The Alpine town of Grenoble on Monday changed the rules of its swimming pool to include all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimwear for women and trunks for men that were previously mandatory.
Interior Minister Gerald Dermanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”, adding that he called for a legal challenge to the new regulations.
Under a new law tackling “Islamic separatism” passed in parliament last year, the government could challenge a decision that it suspects would undermine France’s strict secular tradition aimed at separating religion from the state.
Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban Burkini on a Mediterranean beach in the summer of 2016 triggered the first firestorm around the bathing suite.
Restrictions were eventually lifted for being discriminatory.
Grenoble Mayor Eric Piole, one of the country’s highest-profile green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, hailed the move as a victory for the city.
“What we want is for women and men to be able to dress the way they want to,” Poole told broadcaster RMC on Monday.
The head of the EELV party, Julien Beu, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secular law, which obliges state officials to be neutral on religious matters but guarantees citizens the right to practice their faith freely.
Burkini is not banned in French state-run pools for religious reasons, but for hygiene reasons, when swimmers have no legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.
“I want Muslim women to be able to practice, or change, or not believe in their religion, and I want them to be able to swim,” she added. “I want them to have a lower demand for clothing somehow.”
Grenoble is not the first French city to have changed its rules.
The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkini and other types of swimwear.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)