World

Controversy: Women-Only Swimming To Accommodate Muslims

| by Michael Allen
A Muslim woman wearing a hijabA Muslim woman wearing a hijab

Thirteen of the 100 largest municipalities in Sweden are reportedly offering women-only swimming times at public pools to accommodate Muslims in the country.

"Our facilities are used by 40 percent women and 60 percent men," Johan Hermansson, who heads the recreations department in Malmo, Sweden, told the country's TV4, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

"Our ambition is for them to be used equally by girls and boys, men and women."

Sweden's public pools have reportedly been mixed gender for decades, but the growing Muslim population has triggered the recent change, which not everyone is onboard with.

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"During the past several years, we've had several Muslim women come and swim," Carolina Johansson, a Stockholm resident, told Christian Science Monitor. "But gender-separated swimming doesn't feel like a positive development."

Sweden's democracy minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, who opposes the gender-segregated swimming, said on Swedish TV that mixed-gender swimming is "a victory after many years and generations of gender-equality struggle."

Iva Parizkova Ryggestahl, who is part of Malmo's chapter of the International Women's Association, added: "Men who are not comfortable being in the same swimming pool as women should not be there. And we women shouldn't care whether men are looking at us in the swimming pool or not, and whether they get jealous or not."

Toktam Jahangiry, of Feministiskt Initiativ, Sweden's feminist party, countered:

It's not just Muslim women who want women-only swimming hours; it's women from many different backgrounds. For example, many women who have had a mastectomy don't feel comfortable being seen by men in the swimming pool.

 ... Swimming pools are a meeting place for women where they feel comfortable talking to one another, and women-only swimming hours make it an even better meeting point. A woman who is being beaten by her husband won't want other men to see her bruises in the swimming pool. But she will feel comfortable talking to other women about it there.

Women-only swimming hours for Muslims are not just in Sweden. KPBS reported in 2012 about a similar public pool in San Diego.

The gender-segregated hours at that pool were for about 15 East-African women and girls who were taking a swimming class. This was the first opportunity for many of these ladies and youngsters to swim.

Muslim females also face religious issues regarding modesty when using the local gym and dog-friendly parks because Islam teaches that canines are unclean, noted KPBS.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, KPBS / Photo Credit: Altafalvi/Wikimedia

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