Prohibition on burkini in public swimming baths may be discriminatory
Thursday, 13 July 2017
The Inter-federal Centre for Equal Opportunities, UNIA, this weekend expressed a negative opinion relating to the prohibition of the swimming costume covering the entire body (or the burkini) in public swimming baths. The Centre had been approached by Flemish cities, towns and communes to provide advice upon the issue.
UNIA, which bases its advice upon the arguments put forward by the Flemish Agency for Care and Health, says that this prohibition is without legal basis. It poses no problem as regards hygiene and safety, and the costume would not jeopardize male-female equality.
Several cities, towns and communes in Flanders, including Ghent and Leuven, as well as individual swimmers, have contacted UNIA regarding this prohibition.
The Director of UNIA, Els Keytsman, indicated, “In recent years we have received several dozen indications on the part of supporters and opponents asking questions.” The Centre, which is not a specialist in the field, has turned to the Flemish Agency for Care and Health and the “Gender” section of the Flemish Mediation Service. UNIA adds that it appears that “none of the arguments put forward in favour of the prohibition has any basis in law.”
Els Keytsman has not come down either in favour of, or against, the burkini. However, UNIA infers that in the absence of any legal basis that “this prohibition is contrary to the Flemish anti-discrimination decree.”
The Antwerp Alderman for Diversity and Integration, Fons Duchateau (New Flemish Alliance), reacted to this on Thursday. He indicated that he would continue to defend this prohibition. He laments the fact UNIA is taking the stance of being against this prohibition, “despite all of our concerns regarding the rights of women.”
UNIA acknowledges that in certain cases, an element of pressure can be exerted on women for them to wear the swimming costume covering the entire body. It concludes, “However using a prohibition is not a good way to remedy this issue, as this limits freedom of choice.”