Brouhaha in Brussels over women-only swim hour

The open-air swimming pool Flow in Anderlecht opened last week and has already attracted a deluge of criticism.  Politicians from a raft of parties have slated the special hour during which only women are allowed to swim, while the burkini too has been a target of criticism.

The Flemish nationalist N-VA has slammed the banning of men from the pool during the women-only hour, while Gwendolyn Rutten, a former Flemish liberal leader, has said this is an upside-down world: “The aim cannot be that we return to a situation in which men and women lead separate lives.  In our society we share public spaces.  Everybody must comply with the rules and respect one another.  Separate hours for women are pointless.  The behaviour of men needs to be tackled.”

Flemish Christian democrat Hendrik Bogaert spoke of separate “Islam hours” in public swimming pools, but his party has rejected his terminology as it doesn’t meet ‘the respectful way in which it wants to communicate’. 

The far right Vlaams Belang is incandescent because the burkini, a swimsuit that virtually covers the entire body, is permitted.

“The burkini is a symbol of oppression and the subsidiary role of women in Islam” says lawmaker Dominiek Lootens.

Paul Steinbruck of pool organiser Pool is Cool isn’t surprised by the brouhaha but insists everybody must get a chance to swim at a public pool: “You can swim in any attire as long as it’s swimming attire.”

Steinbruck defends the segregation of women: “There are women, who don’t feel comfortable in the presence of men. It’s not about religion, but about nasty experiences or people who wish to swim in peace.  This goes for children too who need to be accompanied.  If they can’t be accompanied by their mum, they may not get the chance.”

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