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Feminism Around the World: France “Cracks Down” On the Burkini, Profiling Female Muslim French Citizens

Because women's bodies are for public consumption. By law.

Welcome to Feminism Around the World, a weekly feature here at TMS where we focus on women’s lives and feminist concerns… around the world. TMS is a US-based website, but we think it’s important to connect with women all over the globe to applaud successes, report injustices, and amplify the conversation around solutions to gender-based inequality. We’ve written about women in other countries before, but we’d now like to make it a more consistent priority. Because “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” – Teresa

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France: Muslim Women Profiled in the Name of National Security

When Aheda Zanetti of Australia invented the burkini, clothing designed to allow athletic Muslim women and girls to play sports and swim while preserving their modesty, she did so to allow them greater freedom.

In an essay she wrote for The Guardian, she asserts that it’s not even only for Muslim women and girls saying, “I wanted to do something positive – and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. It’s just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn’t want to wear a bikini, it’s not symbolising Islam.” Furthermore, the word “burqua” meant nothing to her, as it’s not a word that is found in any Muslim text, nor does Islam require women to cover their faces. It’s a personal choice. She called it a burkini simply as a shorthand. Yet several French towns and cities, in a wrongheaded, racist, and sexist approach to maintaining national security in the face of recent terrorism, have decided to crack down on wearers of the garment on public beaches.

As reported by both The Guardian and The Daily Mail, several towns in France have banned the burkini. Recently, on a beach in Nice, armed police approached Siam, a 34-year-old Muslim woman who was sitting on the beach with her family wearing a proper headscarf. Even though she had no intention to swim that day, she was ordered to remove her long-sleeved tunic.

Photographs emerged of the incident (which you can see at the links to the publications above), and show that the woman was not only told to remove her tunic, but was also fined and written a ticket. The French news agency AFP got hold of the ticket, which charged Siam with not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.”

Every country has its own unique brand of hypocrisy. In France, only women in Muslim garb are targeted, despite the fact that non-Muslim women might also wear head coverings and long-sleeved articles of clothing to the beach. Many of their laws are in place because France as a country values “secularism,” and yet it’s difficult to imagine a nun in a habit walking along the beach getting the same treatment. Or an Orthodox Jewish woman in a long-sleeved shirt (though, in France, anti-semitism manifests itself in other ways).

While it’s understandable that the country is on edge after recent terrorist attacks, the solution is not ethnic or religious profiling. It certainly isn’t hindering personal freedoms.

According to The Verge, Christian Estrosi, deputy mayor of Nice and president of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, has threatened to file a law suit against anyone who posts photos of the police officers fining and forcing Siam to remove her tunic on social media, saying that doing so can “provoke defamatory remarks and threats” against police.  Never mind the spirit of protest inherent to French culture, or things like freedom of speech.

Or what impeding the individual rights and freedoms of citizens can itself provoke.

What’s worse is that the solutions these French towns and cities are coming up with specifically target Muslim women. After all, there is currently no French ban on turbans, taqiyahs, or kaffiyehs. It’s as if the women are being punished for being the most visible in their faith. Or alternately, being punished for modesty being an expression of their faith, because in a secular society it’s damn near mandatory for women to expose their skin to the world. It’s their civic duty.

Or something.

Discrimination of any kind has no place in a free, democratic society. It’s disheartening that government responses to outside threats too often involve punishing the very citizens they’re supposed to be protecting. Thankfully, according to The Guardian, those very citizens continue on in the spirit of French protest by throwing an impromptu “beach party” at the London Embassy earlier today — complete with burkinis.


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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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