France's Burkini ban 'promotes humiliation'

‘Not only are such bans in and of themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, their enforcement leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls’ – John Dalhuisen

France’s failure to overturn a ban on the “burkini” which promotes the humiliation of women, would be a missed opportunity to end an assault on women’s freedoms, said Amnesty International as France’s highest administrative court considers a challenge to the ban.

France’s State Council is currently considering an appeal against a decision by a lower court upholding a ban on the the full-body swimsuit by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet in the south-east of the country. The ruling will set a legal precedent for municipalities across the country.

Currently, many local decrees in France ban the wearing of any form of beachwear that is contrary to supposed hygiene standards and to the principle of “laicité”, or secularity. Some of the decrees also state that, in view of the existing terrorist threat, wearing specific forms of dress that ostensibly manifest religious beliefs could breach public order.

In recent weeks several French mayors have adopted local decrees regulating the use of beachwear. Some of the decrees have referenced blatantly false security concerns such as hygiene and public order as justification and others have even purported to be aimed at protecting women’s rights. However, the rhetoric around their adoption has universally focused on the negative stereotyping of an already stigmatised minority, said Amnesty.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, said:

“The French authorities should drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices, violate their rights and lead to abuse.

“These bans do nothing to increase public safety, but do a lot to promote public humiliation. Not only are such bans in and of themselves discriminatory, but as we have seen, their enforcement leads to abuses and the degrading treatment of Muslim women and girls.

“The case being considered today offers an opportunity for the French justice system to overturn a discriminatory ban that is fuelled by and is fuelling prejudice and intolerance.”

The bans on burkinis are the latest in a series of restrictive laws against cultural or religious clothing in France. In 2004 a law on religious symbols banned any visible religious symbols in state schools. In 2011, a law banned the concealment of the face in public spaces. Those laws are indirectly discriminating against Muslim women.

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