France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’État, overturned on Friday the controversial “burkini ban” imposed by a string of towns alongside France’s southern coast.
The court specifically spiked the ban in place in the town of Villaneuve-Loubet. However, the decision will likely have ripple effects throughout the other towns around the country that have also banned the full-body swimsuit —which is akin to a wetsuit with a head-covering and is most commonly worn by Muslim women — on their beaches.
Burkini bans spread following the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice last month. Supporters appealed to France’s particular form of secularism, which imposes strict restrictions on any display of religion in public life, and argued that the burkini is a display of “allegiance” to Islam. Proponents of the ban also relied on pseudo-feminist arguments claiming that the burkini is a form of oppression that women must be liberated from. France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, for example, said that the veil spreads an “ideological message” and is akin to the “enslavement of women.”
However, the ban — like France’s previous bans on religious clothing in public schools colloquially called the “headscarf ban” — this policy specifically targeted Muslim women. Proponents also said that wearing a burkini was akin to an endorsement of ISIS, which was widely called out as blatant Islamophobia.
So Sarkozy calls the burkini a 'provocation.' Whether women cover or uncover their bodies, seems we're always, always 'asking for it.'
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 25, 2016
In the past few days, outrage over the ban spread rapidly online after photos emerged of police on a beach in Nice forcing a woman to remove her clothing. Reports also emerged of the police in Cannes fining a woman for wearing leggings and headscarf on the beach as people around her cheered on the police and verbally attacked her.
In response, women spoke out to reporters and across Twitter — pointing out that, despite French politicians’ attempt to cloak the ban in feminism as a way of liberating women, it was in truth another way for people to tell women what they were allowed to wear. Women in London staged a “wear what you want beach party” in front of the French Embassy in protest.
Aheda Zanetti, the woman who developed the burkini, wrote an op-ed in The Guardian arguing that the burkini ban is fundamentally misguided, as she developed the burkini in the first place as a way to extend freedom to swim and be athletic in public to women who choose to be modest.
“When I invented the burkini in early 2004, it was to give women freedom, not to take it away,” she wrote.
In the Friday ruling the court said that the burkini ban violated “fundamental freedoms” such as the “freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal liberty.”
Several mayors, however, have articulated their defiance to the court order to the French news agency Agence France Presse, and said that they will continue to enforce the ban, including in the towns of Nice and Frejus.