The Hypocrisy of France's Burkini Ban

August 24th 2016

Almie Rose

A ban on the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini in the French town of Nice is dredging up a debate about a women's right to chose her own attire.  

A French administrative tribunal in Nice has banned women from wearing burkinis because the swimwear was deemed "liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach" and could "be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by" French society according to The News International.

Ironically, swimwear bans were originally imposed to punish women for immodesty.

As a tweet by AJ+ Producer Christina Cerqueira notes, limitations on women's clothing far pre-date the burkini ban controversy.

Mashable reported in May of 2015 that regulations punishing women for wearing swimsuits that were too revealing were all the rage on America's beaches in the 1920s.

"[As] the century hit its stride, necklines lowered and arms were uncovered," Chris Wild wrote. "In response, seaside resorts published codes regulating the appearance of swimming costumes, especially the length of the skirts, in the interest of preserving modesty."

Now, women are being punished for appearing too modest.

So far, at least ten women have been have been asked to take off their burkinis and leave beaches along the French Riviera by police, with four of them being fined, according to The Daily Mail.

The creator of the burkini said she designed it to help women who want to adhere to the laws of Islam, while still enjoying the beach. 

"When I invented the burkini in early 2004," designer Aheda Zanetti wrote for The Guardian, "it was to give women freedom, not to take it away." 

That women are being criminalized for their choice of swimwear, especially swimwear designed to empower them to partake in beach activities, is being seen as hypocritical by Lawyers for the Human Rights League (LDH) and the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), who are actively challenging the ban, as well as bystanders on Twitter from all around the world.

Nice followed the lead of nearby Cannes, France in banning the burkini after the attack on Bastille Day in which 75 people were killed and 50 were injured after a lorry driver purposefully drove into a large crowd. The link between the burkini ban and fears about terrorism are clear, as Nice declared they are banning clothing that "overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks."

This is not the first time France has taken issue with Islamic clothing. In 2010 France passed the Act Prohibiting Concealment of the Face in Public Space, which banned women from publicly wearing a niqāb, a veil that covers the face.