A number of Finnish swimming pools, public and private alike, have introduced ladies-only shifts or special courses geared towards immigrants in an attempt to encourage Muslim women to learn how to swim, national broadcaster Yle reported.
Among others, the Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation, an organisation dedicated to improving swimming skills and reducing drowning deaths in Finland, has specifically launched a course aimed at cultivating swimming skills and knowledge among immigrants. This is part of the Swimming Skills for All project, funded by the Finnish National Agency for Education.
“Our goal is to have immigrant-background instructors who can teach courses in their own language within a few years,” chairman Jukka Rantala stated, envisaging the long-term goal.
The swimming courses reportedly received an enthusiastic response from users.
“Initially we had doubts about whether we would get enough students for a full batch, but the reception was great and we got a lot of people,” Outi Penkkala, a teacher at Raseko Regional Education and Training Consortium, said.
Separate hours for men and women are becoming increasingly popular across the country. The Turku-based Petrelius swimming pool's weekly women-only shifts have reportedly become a tremendous success, despite its segregationist approach.
“Swimming at the same time as men is not possible. It is forbidden in our culture,” Muslim woman Gulbahar Afghan told Yle. By her own admission, she has never had the chance to swim in her home country.
However, this goes hand in hand with the ongoing discussion on what kind of swimwear should be accepted in public swimming pools. Some institutions permit women to swim in comprehensive bathing suits known as Burkinis (a portmanteau word for burqa and bikini), which have long sleeves, leggings and a hood and are mostly worn by Muslim women in accordance with the teachings of Islam orthodoxy where showing skin is prohibited. Others, by contrast, are against it due to security aspects and hygienic considerations.
While many of Finland's swimming halls have strict rules and don't even accept shorts as swimwear, the country's Discrimination Ombudsman specifically called burkini bans “discrimination based on religion and gender” and called to lift them.
According to a 2016 estimate, 2.7 percent of Finland's population of 5.5 million is Muslim.