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Finnish Ombudsman Calls to Allow Islamic Swimwear, Stop 'Multiple Discrimination'

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Banning burkinis, swimsuits worn by Muslim women is tantamount to gender- and religion-based discrimination, Finland's ombudsman has ruled. At present, many swimming halls don't accept full-body swimsuits for hygienic reasons.

Kirsi Pimiä, Finland's Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has recommended that Finland's public swimming pools should permit the use of burkinis, the body-covering bathing suits popular in the Muslim world.

By her own admission, Pimiä became aware of several cases when burkini-wearing women were not permitted to use public swimming pools, despite being previously advised though.

“From the point of view of laws on discrimination, it's problematic that not all swimming pools permit the use of burkinis. Some Muslim women use burkinis as bathing suits, so a ban can amount to discrimination on the grounds of religion and gender”, Pimiä said, as quoted by national broadcaster Yle.

A ban therefore equals multiple discrimination, she stressed.

Pimiä added that public pools should also provide private showering facilities in order to promote equality among all segments of society, including those with disabilities and illnesses or sexual minorities.

In 2017, several swimming-related organisations, including the Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation and Aquatics Finland, also recommended that burkinis should be permitted in the country's swimming halls.

Finland's swimming halls tend to have strict rules, as some don't even accept shorts as swimwear. In the absence of nationwide rules, local burkini bans have been justified, among other things, by security aspects and hygienic considerations, as a loose burkini can get stuck and create dangerous situations. Others, by contrast, see no hazards and even offer burkinis for rent.

A 2016 estimate by the Research Centre suggested that 2.7 percent of Finland's population of 5.5 million is Muslim.

The burkini, a combination of a bikini and burka, sometimes referred to as “modesty suit”, was created in 2004 by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti. According to her, the idea is to enable Muslim women to participate in sports-related activities. The burkini covers the entire body, except the face, hands and feet.

Its use, however, has not been uncontroversial, as some areas in France, Germany and Morocco have banned the burkini, sparking debates.

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