Why this story matters:
Since the summer of 2016, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, burkinis have become the main symbol of the gray area between freedom of religion and integration. Although you hardly see any burkinis in Belgium, most public swimming pools forbid 'swimwear covering the entire body' (in other words, burkinis).
The arguments in favor of the ban were always the same: hygiene and safety. Last year, the Inter-federal Center for Equal Opportunities Unia looked into those concerns and concluded that burkinis do not pose a threat in this regard. But Unia's analysis was widely ignored.
This is the first time that a judge gives an opinion on the matter, and it provides clear legal basis for any further discussion. From now on, advocates of the burkini ban will need to contend with the fact that there are no legal grounds for imposing this kind of regulation.
Details from the story:
- Two Muslim women who were turned away from a pool because they wanted to wear a burkini took the matter to court. The ban was a form of discrimination, according to them. They were helped by the legal clinic of the Ghent University, which specializes in human rights.
- Swimming pools often argue that swimsuits covering the whole body are forbidden for hygiene or safety reasons.
- The swimming pool Ter Wallen in Merelbeke put up a poster stating: 'Burkinis are not allowed for hygienic or ecological reasons.' The Van Eyck pool in Ghent simply put up a sign explaining that 'all full-body swimsuits' are prohibited.'
- Professor Eva Brems of the Ghent University stated that: 'It's been scientifically proven that a full-body suit that is made from the same material as other swimsuits is no less hygienic. As for the safety argument, there were no concrete concerns either.'
- Ghent pools will have to modify their rules immediately, even if cities have decided to appeal against the ruling.
- The State Secretary for Equal Opportunities Zuhal Demir (N-VA) is not happy with the ruling: she says 'the burkini symbolizes the oppression of women' and wants new legislation.