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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

Police patrolling the promenade des anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini - Vantage News
Police patrolling the promenade des anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini – Vantage News

France’s motto is “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” which directly translates to “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”. While this phrase emphasize a citizen’s ability to express their beliefs, share equal rights and feel included in their community, the recent burkini ban in France does not share these values.

Does banning women from wearing clothing of their choice and preserving their beliefs demonstrate liberty? Does banning women, but not men, from wearing a type of clothing display equality in rights? Does singling out a specific group of people reflect the idea of community and inclusion?


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In late July the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, banned the burkini – a full-length women’s swimsuit that covers the whole body except for the face, hands and feet – on  public beaches. Over 30 towns along France’s southeast coastline followed in his suite, imposing the ban. The burkini controversy made international headlines after photographs arose of a group of male police officers finning a Muslim woman on a beach in Nice.    


After the outcry against the burkini became a topic of global debate, French officials argued that the burkini not only represents Islam’s inability to assimilate to French values but also that traditional Muslim dress impedes the rights of women.


“The swimsuit reflects a worldview based on the enslavement of women. That is not compatible with the values of France.” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in an interview with La Provence.


Prime Minister Valls’s perception of what the swim suit symbolizes is contradictory. According to burkini designer, Aheda Zanetti, burkinis give women the freedom of choice, the flexibility of movement and the confidence they need to participate in any type of sporting activity they want.


The burkini represents the wearer, which could be any woman, not just a Muslim woman, who wants to participate in sport activities but keep their appearance modest and protect themselves from the sun. In reality, this swimsuit gives women the freedom and ability to partake in activities that they are unable to, instead of “enslaving them”. Evidently, the purpose and symbol of the burkini is aligned with the value of freedom to make your own decisions.


Since the ban, Muslim women have been vocal about the many benefits that the burkini has given them, describing it as a tool of empowerment that represents a personal choice they can make.


“The burkini allows me the freedom to swim and go on the beach, and I don’t feel I am compromising my beliefs for that,” according to British Muslim woman, Aysha Ziaddun, as heard on the BBC.


Unlike what Prime Minister Valls says, the burkini ban is repressing women’s right; taking away their freedom to wear what they want. It essentially tells women that they are not allowed to cover up and therefore cannot do activities such as play on the beach with their children or go swimming. Regulating what someone wears violates their human right of freedom of expression, which does  not anywhere near exemplify the value of freedom outlined in France’s motto.

Another argument supporting the ban revolves around ensuring the equal rights of men and women. Some people believe that the burkini is taking away women’s rights, separating them from the opposite gender because it shows less skin than men’s swimwear and therefore creates inequality. “Wearing an outfit that fully covers the body to go to a beach does not correspond to our vision of living together, particularly with regard to the equality of men and women.” Christian Estrosi, a supporter of the burkini ban who runs the Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur regional council said in a Washington Post article.


Without a doubt, banning women from wearing an article of clothing takes away their rights as free citizens. Women’s rights include the right for women to cover up and wear what they want. Taking away this right not only creates inequality between men and women, but also further impedes France’s motto of equal rights among citizens.


Furthermore, the burkini ban further isolates the five to six million Muslims living France. It creates an increasingly discriminatory attitude hinders them from integrating into the French community. With the recent Nice attack in July and the Charlie Hebdo shooting last year, there is growing anti-Muslim sentiment among the French community, matched by significant rises in threats of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination among employers.



In February of 2016, France’s National Human Rights Commission (CNCDH) released a report on the fight against racism in France. The CNCDH reported 429 anti-Muslim threats and attacks in 2015. This number is an astonishing 223 percent increase from the previous year. France’s highest administrative court, the State Council (Conseil d’Etat), has since overturned the ban and ruled that mayors do not have the right to ban the burkinis, calling it an insult to “fundamental freedoms”. Although this is a victory, discussion still remains, even at WIS, about the negative implications the ban has created for France.


In conversations in French class, my peers and I briefly spoke with our teacher, Mme. Leflot, about how France has multicultural values that are hindered by local governments, who keep trying to suppress them and take away their identities.


When asking Joanna Bui, a French national and senior at WIS, her thoughts on the ban, she brought into light, the issue of secularism in France that many have tried to use to justify the ban.“I think that this burkini ban goes against what France once believed was secularism. It said that the state would not recognize any religion. Essentially, this means that any type of clothing would not be identified as being a part of a certain religion, simply because the state would not tell the difference between different religions,” Joanna Bui said.


While people have used secularism, ensuring equality and including them in society as reasoning behind the burkini ban, there is not any type of justification that can dispute what this ban symbolizes. With the ban’s inhibition of women’s freedom, devaluation of equality and isolationist capabilities, the core French values of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” are no longer evident.

By Ananiya Kumar Neeck

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