#BurkiniBan: This is what happens when police tell women what to wear on the beach

Police in France are enforcing a ‘burkini ban’ upon women – but why?

.Sitting on a sandy stretch of beach on the south of France, you stretch out your legs and feel the sun wash over on your face. It’s the summer holidays, and you’ve come to Cannes to relax. Your children are down by the water with your husband – but you’re not planning on joining them. You’re just grateful for the chance to relax. Five minutes later, a policeman shows up – and fines you for not wearing a bikini.

It sounds far-fetched – and extreme – but that’s exactly what happened to 34-year-old Siam earlier this week. Wearing leggings and a tunic top with a simple headscarf, she was enjoying her holiday – a policeman strode over and told her that she was breaking the law.

‘I was sitting on the beach with my family,’ she recalls. ‘I had no intention of swimming, [but] racist speech was hurled openly. I was stunned – I was hearing things no one had ever said to my face before, like “Go home!”, “Madam, the law is the law, we’re tired of these stories,” and “Here, we are Catholic!”‘

But Siam’s experience isn’t a random one off. Since the 23rd August, at least 16 women in France have been fined for covering up their hair or their body on the beach in a new ruling dubbed the #BurkiniBan. One woman in Nice was even apparently forced by a group of armed police to remove her long-sleeved top in public – an incident which immediately prompted the hashtag #WTFFrance, as onlookers compared the event to a form of assault.

It all comes after the mayor of Cannes – a right-wing politician called David Lisnard – banned women from wearing so-called ‘burkinis’.

‘Access to beaches and swimming is banned to anyone who does not have [bathing apparel] which respects good customs and secularism,’ he said in a ruling which went through on July 28. ‘Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order which is it necessary to prevent.’ Meanwhile, in Nice, recently implemented by-laws state ‘access to public beaches is forbidden to “any person not properly dressed, respectful of morality and secularism, respecting the rules of hygiene and safety”.’

They’re problematic rulings on multiple counts. Not least because they’re quite vague: In fact, as it stands, no comment has been made on whether a skintight all-in-one swimming costume could feasibly ‘disrupt public order’ and/or disrespect ‘the rules of hygiene and safety’. Sure, it’s 2016, and clothes can do incredible things (Spanx jeans, anyone?) – but this seems unlikely.

‘The situation is just nuts,’ Romanna Bint-Abubaker, 33, founder of modest clothing company Haute-Elan.com, tells us. ‘I can understand the French niqab ban on the basis of security issues – and even for certain public positions – but I cannot see why the burkini is of any relevance.’

And it’s not just the burkini that’s being targeted. In fact, while the hijab – or headscarf – isn’t specified in the new ruling and isn’t illegal in France, multiple women in Cannes have allegedly been fined for wearing them since Monday. One eyewitness even caught two girls being called out of the sea and being given cautions by the police.

‘It was around 2pm,’ she explained. ‘Several police officers approached a lifeguard, who pointed out a group of four girls – only one of whom was wearing a headscarf. The police asked the girls to leave the water, and I saw that the police officer was writing on a piece of paper. After the offence had been reported [and the police left], I went over to them. The girl with the headscarf was in tears and could barely speak.’ The eyewitness – who wants to remain anonymous – added that one of the other girls was wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the sea (but no headscarf), and had been cautioned too, although the local police force denies that.

Then there’s the apparent hypocrisy of the situation. For all of the country’s devotion to ‘secularism’ (the belief that religion should be kept separate to the state or government), images of nuns on beaches in France are being shared all over social media – and while it’s probable that these images were taken before the new rulings came into play, there’s also not been any news of nuns (or in fact, of any women or men of any religion other than Islam) being reprimanded for refusing to don a two piece before they slip into the sea.

‘What I wear is my choice – and I don’t see how my decision to cover my body infringes upon anyone else’s lifestyle’, adds Romanna.

And it’s exactly this which is the crux of the matter: Dictating what women should (or shouldn’t) wear is never OK. After all, one image which has gone viral this week is of a policeman who appears to be in the Middle East, reprimanding a young woman for not being covered up enough. That image is coupled with a photo taken this week in France – of a policeman reprimanding a young woman for being covered up.

And it feels like that says it all, really.

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