A combination of “bikini” and “burqa,” the Burqini – swimwear that covers all parts of the body except for the face, hands, and feet – remains at the center of a heated controversy in France. Created in 2003 in Australia by Aheda Zanetti, the Burqini was designed as a garment that would be flexible and comfortable for women who adhered to the “Islamic code of dressing” and also wanted to participate in sports.1 According to Zanetti, the idea behind the clothing was to promote freedom and a healthy lifestyle, not to encourage oppression of women.2 Since 2003, the brand has enjoyed a significant amount of success, particularly with women of the Muslim faith, though not exclusively; some secular women choose to wear the garment because it provides protection from sun exposure.3
Following the July 2016 terror attacks in France, David Lisnard, the Mayor of Cannes, instituted a ban on wearing Burqinis on public beaches, calling the garment “the uniform of extremist Islamism.”4 The rationale behind the ban was that a woman’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion was trumped by the public safety risk the garments created. Over the subsequent weeks, more than thirty French municipalities instituted bans of their own.
The French government certainly has an obligation to protect the right of the public to be secure, and to some degree that is as it should be; protecting public safety is an important and serious matter. Many felt, however, that prohibiting the Burqini on beaches was not about public safety so much as it was a direct discrimination against Muslim women. Articles flooded the media, many pointing to the fact that while a ban on face coverings is understandable to protect public safety and not necessarily directed specifically towards one religion (for example, Halloween masks are included in that ban), this ban targeted, almost exclusively, women of the Muslim faith.5 The general objections grew stronger still when photos of police officers forcing a woman to remove her Burqini on a public beach in Nice surfaced on August 24, 2016.6 An ironic aspect of this particular issue concerns the fact that those imposing the bans have said that they are doing so in part because Islamist extremists force women to wear these garments against their will, yet, by enforcing the ban and requiring women to remove their Burqinis on public beaches, they are arguably doing the same thing – albeit not in the name of a particular religion.
After considerable public outcry, on August 26, 2016, the highest administrative court in France – the French Council of State (FCS) – overruled the bans. Many of the officials involved, however, have said that they will ignore the ruling.7 It remains to be seen whether the individual towns will allow women to don clothing of their own choosing without further involvement by the FCS. One thing is certain, in the midst of this serious controversy over competing rights, the real winner here is the designer of the Burqini – who has seen sales skyrocket by 200% in the last few months.8
- See The BURQINI / BURKINI Brand Story, Burqini Swimwear (last visited Sept. 18, 2016) http://www.burqini.com [http://perma.cc/2NSG-QA9N]. ↩
- See It’s about freedom: Ban boosts burkini sales by 200%, BBC (Aug. 24, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37171749 [http://perma.cc/99TA-EPPR]. ↩
- See Alexandra Suarez, What Is A Burkini? Facts To Explain France’s Ban On Bathing Suit, International Business Times (Aug. 15, 2016), http://www.ibtimes.com/what-burkini-facts-explain-frances-ban-bathing-suit-2402213 [http://perma.cc/4E99-EDDE]. ↩
- See Joseph V. Micallef, Is France Right to Ban the Burkini?, Huffington Post (Sept. 3, 2016), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-v-micallef/is-france-right-to-ban-th_b_11845732.html [http://perma.cc/895R-LSAV]. ↩
- See id. ↩
- See Ben Quinn, French police make woman remove clothing on Nice beach following burkini ban, The Guardian (Aug. 23, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/french-police-make-woman-remove-burkini-on-nice-beach [http://perma.cc/WF5P-EUVQ]. ↩
- See Micallef, supra note 3. ↩
- See It’s about freedom, supra note 2. ↩