Should Spain regulate use of Burkinis ?

Women bathe while clothed on Monday at the beach in Montgat, Barcelona

Women bathe while clothed on Monday at the beach in Montgat, Barcelona

The recent prohibition of the use of the so-called “burkini” on the beaches of Cannes and Sisco (Corsica) in France has reopened the debate in Europe on the use of the veil in public spaces. The wearing of the long-sleeved bathing suit, which covers the wearer up from head to ankle but leaves the face visible, has even reached the courts in countries such as Germany and Italy. In Spain, however, where the swimwear item has been seen on some beaches, there are no regulations currently in place regarding its use.

Previously in Spain a number of municipal authorities put rules in place regarding the use of the burqa, the garment worn by some Muslim women and which covers up their bodies and faces. At least 30 Catalan municipalities have voted since 2010 against the use of the burqa in public institutions and facilities, although these decisions were questioned by the Supreme Court on the basis that local councils did not have the powers to limit religious freedoms in this way.

There were no rules imposed, however, on the use of such attire in the street, on beaches or in swimming pools, as has been the case in other European Union countries or even in Morocco, where some private clubs do not consider the burkini to be proper swimwear and as such it is not permitted in the pools.

This past weekend, women wearing burkinis were seen on the beach in Montgat, Barcelona. “In Spain the use of this attire is exceptional, and there is no kind of debate on the subject,” explains Gloria García Romeral, a sociologist and an expert in religious diversity at the Barcelona Autonomous University (UAB). García Romeral says that there is no kind of regulation in place in the whole state that could be used to prohibit the use of the burkini in Spain, and suggested that “the bathers in Montgat are most likely tourists.”

In 2014, however, the mayor of the northern city of Vitoria, Javier Maroto, imposed a ban in the summer on people bathing in public swimming pools while clothed, whether they were wearing underwear, sports gear or a veil. The regulation obliged lifeguards to expel anyone who broke this rule. “Whoever wants to swim with clothes on should go to a reservoir,” he said at the time.

The mayor of Sisco, Corisca, announced on Monday that the use of burkinis would not be allowed on their beaches, following a similar decision in Cannes and a nearby area on the Côte d’Azur. The decision was motivated by violent incidents during the weekend, which involved families of Moroccan origin and local residents and which left five injured. The conflict came in the wake of the series of Islamist attacks that France has seen over recent months. An investigation has been opened into the causes of the fight. On Sunday, 500 people demonstrated in the capital of the island to denounce the violence.

Published ElPais 16 August 2016

Return to Daily News