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Designer Aheda Zanetti and her burkini, modeled by Farrah Zbib. Photo: Adam Hollingworth

So not only can the government prohibit women from going topless, but they now (in France) are actively banning women from wearing too much clothing. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the recent uproar about the new street wear bans in France. Incase you haven’t, here’s a summary of what’s been going on:

Earlier this month (August) a brawl incident occurred in Cannes, a town on the island of Corsica in France. It allegedly began after a tourist photographed women bathing in burkinis on the beach, without their permission. The burkini, or burqini, is swimsuit designed for women to cover the whole body except the face, hands and feet. Its intended specifically to comply with the Quranic instruction for Muslim women to dress modestly. It was created by Aheda Zanetti, an Australian designer in Sydney, and is now bought and worn all around the world. The brawl was between three Muslim families who were photographed and a group of young Corsicans, resulting in at least four people being badly injured and five arrested.

A few days later a ban was put on women wearing a burkini in public, and as of August 21st, a total of 22 towns share this new rules. Women wearing the garment on the beach are being asked to replace it with a bikini or remove themselves from the area. Sadly, I think the ban is unsurprising considering the recent terrorist attacks in France. Yet again, an assumption has been put upon a whole group as a reaction to something that only a small percentage were involved in.

“The burkini stands for freedom, flexibility and confidence, it does not stand for misery, torture and terror.” – Aheda Zanetti, 2016

I know, I’m just a twenty year old caucasian atheist somewhere in Australia and it’s really not my place to get involved, nor will it realistically do any help. Nevertheless, I have a few concerns with this ban. Predominantly the government’s ability to control the range of clothing that people (specifically women) are allowed to wear. Evidently there’s a narrow window between showing too much skin resulting in slut shaming and not showing enough which apparently  is a ‘hygiene and safety hazard’ or a ‘symbol of Islamic extremism’.

Why was the immediate reaction to punish the women wearing burkinis? As far as I understand, they were just having a swim at the beach in the midst of summer, minding their own business. Why is the minority once again being controlled and punished for something that the larger party provoked or started? I find it very similar to victim shaming, telling the rape victim to ‘wear more clothes’ or asking if they were too drunk instead of punishing the raper and teaching them the lessons they obviously haven’t learned.

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Lifesaver Mecca Laa Laa wears a burkini on her first patrol at North Cronulla Beach in 2007. The burkini was seen as a symbol of integration after Zanetti was commissioned to design one for Australian surf life savers. Photo: Getty Images

Not only are Islamic women being further alienated within society, but they are being robbed of experiences. That’s not even to mention the women who choose to wear a burkini for reasons other than religion, such as health or body issues. As quite a pale red head who lives under the harsh Australian sun, I’m all for the skin protection it offers. After receiving consistent emails from clients, Zanetti estimates that 45% of her clients aren’t muslim, purchasing and wearing the burkini because its practical for other reasons (which she isn’t offended by and actually supports). The burkini is a symbol of female choice and empowerment encouraging and making it more practical for the women to participate in sports and swimming activities. In fact, due to the recent uproar and media coverage, Zanetti’s swimsuit brand Ahiida has experienced a significant increase in sales.

References:

ABC News. 2016. “Burkini ban: Corsica mayor prohibits Islamic swimsuit after beach brawl on French island.” August 16 2016. Accessed August 20th, 2016  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-16/corsica-mayor-becomes-third-to-ban-burkini/7746476

Chrisafis, Angelique. 2016. “Corsican mayor bans burkini after violence at beach and protests.” The Guardian, August 15 2016. Accessed August 20, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/15/corsica-mayor-bans-burkini-violence-beach-protests-sisco-france

Dearden, Lizzie. 2016. “Burkini ban: Second French Riviera resort follows Cannes as mayor calls Muslim beachwear ‘unwelcome’.” Independent, August 14 2016. Accessed August 20, 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/burkini-ban-second-french-riviera-resort-follows-cannes-rules-as-mayor-says-muslim-beachwear-a7189151.html

Dumas, Daisy. 2016. “Non-Muslims flock to buy burkinis as French bans raise profile of the modest swimwear style.” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 20 2016. Accessed August 20, 2016 http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/news-features/nonmuslims-flock-to-buy-burkinis-as-french-bans-raise-profile-of-the-modest-swimwear-style-20160819-gqwx95.html

Samuel, Henry. 2016. “French Riviera burkini ban ‘illegal’ and ‘gift for Isil recruiters’ says critics.” The Telegraph News, August 12th 2016. Accessed 20th August, 2016 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/12/french-riviera-burkini-ban-illegal-and-gift-for-isil-recruiters/

Vulliamy, Ed. 2016. “They want us to be invisible’: how the ban on burkinis is dividing the Côte d’Azur.” The Guardian, August 21 2016. Accessed August 21, 2016  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/20/burkini-ban-cote-d-azur-spreads-france-divide

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