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Politicians upset by burkinis and women-only hour in new swimming pool

17:05 06/07/2021

The new open-air pool in Anderlecht, called Flow, is causing consternation among some politicians. Members of both the Dutch and French-speaking liberals have been particularly vocal about burkinis being allowed in the pool and that one hour a week is reserved for women only.

Flow opened just a few days ago near the Pierre Marchant bridge. It is managed by Pool is Cool, which has been campaigning for open-air swimming in the capital for many years. The organisation runs it together with several other cultural and social associations, including Kunstenfestivaldesarts and Fix, which carries out renovations of public spaces.

The pool, which swimmers can use for free, has been funded by several bodies, including the Brussels regional government, the Flemish government and Anderlecht city council. And they all want their say about burkinis – swimwear worn by Muslim women that covers most of the body – and a time devoted to women only in the pool.

‘Our values are undermined’

“Burkini admitted and hours reserved for women. The communitarian madness continues,” tweeted MR chair Georges-Louis Bouchez. “The MR will intervene in the Brussels parliament and at the federal level. Our values are undermined by others’ ignorant complicity.” He went on to say that he expected secretary of state for gender equality, Sarah Schlitz, to intervene.

“It’s the world turned upside down,” said Flemish parliamentarian Gwendolyn Rutten of MR’s Dutch-speaking equivalent Open VLD. “You need to deal with the behaviour of the men, not take us back to a separate society. In our society, we share public space, and everyone must behave appropriately and respect each other. Separating the hours has no purpose whatsoever.”

And the liberals are not alone. Members of Défi, CD&V and N-VA have also taken to social media to air their grievances about the policies developed by Pool is Cool. “Separate swim times for women and burkinis allowed, welcome to the capital of Europe,” tweeted federal MP Theo Francken (N-VA).

Paul Steinbrück of Pool is Cool
Paul Steinbrück of Pool is Cool  ©Urban.Brussels

As for Pool is Cool, they are somewhat surprised by the strong reactions. “Our standpoint is that everyone must have the opportunity to swim,” Paul Steinbrück of Pool is Cool told VRT. “That can happen in any swimwear – as long as it’s swimwear.”

He also points out that the two issues are being conflated. The weekly women-only hour is not linked to Islam. “We just want women to have an hour where they feel comfortable and safe,” he told De Morgen. He noted that some fitness clubs also have women-only hours.

“The purpose of the swimming pool is to allow residents to enjoy the summer,” said Anderlecht city councillor Fatiha El Ikdimi (CdH) to La Libre Belgique. “Reserving a time slot for women ensures that women who are not comfortable in a swimsuit in the presence of men are not excluded. Allowing them to enjoy the pool and meet other women is important.”

It’s unfortunate, said Steinbrück, “that politicians express their disapproval only via Twitter and don’t contact us directly. We are ready to have a discussion, but they have to take that step to reach out to us.”

Swimming is free at Flow, but swimmers must reserve a place in advance. Everyone gets 45 minutes in the pool, but can enjoy the deck before and after the swim. Women-only times are on Saturday mornings, and women may bring their children (boys or girls) up to age 12.

Photo top: ©Ophelie Delarouzee/BELGA


Written by Lisa Bradshaw