A burkini (or burqini; portmanteau of burqa and bikini, though qualifying as neither of these garments) is a type of modesty swimsuit for women, designed in Australia by Aheda Zanetti. The suit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, while being light enough for swimming. The design is intended to accord with Islamic traditions of modest dress. Zanetti's company Ahiida owns the trademarks to the words burkini and burqini, but they have become generic terms for similar forms of Islamic swimwear. In 2016, a number of French municipalities banned the use of burkini, which sparked an international controversy.
The design is intended to accord with Islamic traditions of modest dress. The suit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, whilst being light enough to enable swimming. It resembles a full-length wetsuit with a built-in hood, but is somewhat looser and made of swimsuit material instead of neoprene. Zanetti's company Ahiida owns the trademarks to the words burqini and burkini, but they have become generic terms for similar forms of Islamic swimwear.
Other styles of "Islamic" swimwear include the veilkini and MyCozzie brand. Zanetti criticized the mycozzie suit, claiming it used lycra and was unsafe. This was disputed by the designer of the mycozzie swimsuit.
In August 2009, a woman in France was prevented from swimming in a public pool wearing a burkini, amidst ongoing controversy about Islamic dress. The action was justified by reference to a law that forbids swimming in street clothes.
In August 2016, the mayor of Cannes banned the swimsuits, citing a possible link to Islamic extremism. At least 20 other French towns, including Nice subsequently joined the ban. Dozens of women were subsequently issued fines, with some tickets citing not wearing "an outfit respecting good morals and secularism", and some were verbally attacked by bystanders when they were confronted by the police. Enforcement of the ban also hit beachgoers wearing a wide range of modest attire besides the burkini. Media reported that in one case armed police forced a woman to remove her clothing on a beach in Nice. The Nice mayor's office denied that she was forced to do so and the mayor condemned what he called the "unacceptable provocation" of wearing such clothes in the aftermath of the Nice terrorist attack. The ban enacted by the commune of Villeneuve-Loubet has been suspended by France's highest administrative court, setting a potential precedent for further legal challenges.
The ban was supported by a number of French politicians including the socialist prime minister Manuel Valls who said "The burkini is not a new range of swimwear, a fashion. It is the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on the enslavement of women." Some commentators in France criticized the bans and reports of Muslim women being stopped by police for wearing headscarves and long-sleeved clothes on beaches caused outrage among members of the French socialist party and rights groups. A poll showed that 64% of the French public supported the bans while another 30% were indifferent.
The bans and their enforcement prompted criticism and ridicule abroad, particularly in English-speaking countries. A New York Times editorial called French politicians’ "paternalistic pronouncements on the republic’s duty to save Muslim women from enslavement" bigotry and hypocritical. Liberal British Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz offered a critique of both the swimsuit and its ban: "Burkini is sad symbol of Islam today going backwards on gender issues. Banning it is sad symbol of liberalism today going backwards in reply." Other Muslim commentators, particularly Muslim women, have argued that the burkini gives women who do not wish to expose their body for religious or other reasons the freedom to enjoy the beach.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the ban, stating that it "actually amounts to banning women from the beach, in the middle of the summer, just because they wish to cover their bodies in public. It’s almost a form of collective punishment against Muslim women for the actions of others."
Some drew parallels between the burkini ban and the ban of the French ban of the catholic soutane some 111 years earlier after the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State.
Zanetti estimates that 40% of her customer base has been non-Muslim. She stated: "We've sold to Jews, Hindus, Christians, Mormons, women with various body issues. We've had men asking for them, too."
In Australia, the burkini has been worn by female beach lifeguards. They wear a special yellow and red design created by Zanetti in 2007 when Surf Life Saving Australia began to look for Muslim lifeguards in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim riots on Sydney's beaches.
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