Burkini has caused much heated debate

In the end, the summer in Sussex turned out to be pretty hot.

Woman in burkini
Woman in burkini

In France, it’s been hot too –both meteorologically and otherwise, with much heated debate (and legal activity) around the issue of what some women choose to wear on the beach. Over 20 French towns have defied court rulings that say their town’s mayor has no legal right to impose a ‘burkini ban’ on their beaches and are upholding the ban. A burkini is a swim suit that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet, while being light enough for swimming. Many Muslim women choose to wear it as it adheres to their religious beliefs in relation to modesty. Many other women around the world choose to wear a burkini, often because it offers around 90% of UV sun protection and burkinis have been widely available this summer in UK high street stores, such as M&S.

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However, some women, particularly from black and minority ethnic communities, do feel inhibited, for cultural and other reasons, from getting involved in exercise and sport. Sport England research showed that, although Muslim men were more likely than any other religious group to get involved in leisure sport (52.5%), Muslim women were far less likely to (19%). The research also reports: “In general, Islam promotes good health and fitness and encourages both men and women to engage in physical activity to maintain healthy lifestyles. However, there are aspects of the religion which affect how sports can be practised. For example, women following their faith cannot engage in mixed gender sports and the environment and dress code also requires consideration.”

Sussex Community Foundation has funded a number of projects over the years that aim to support women to exercise and keep fit in a way that suits them. The Hangleton & Knoll Multicultural Women’s Group (HKMWG) is one. The HKMWG promotes the wellbeing of families, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, living in Hangleton & Knoll. They received £1,496 from our Brighton & Hove Community Health Fund in March to subsidise 20 weeks’ of yoga classes, ten weeks’ of exercise classes, 20 weeks’ of women-only swimming sessions, and other costs. Most importantly, feedback from the group says that 85.7% of participants felt they had visited their GP less because of the fitness activities they had taken part in.

Perhaps, generally Brighton is a little more laissez-faire, as the French might say, than many towns. In response to the sight of local burkini-clad women enjoying themselves on the beach recently, Mike Hedger, who runs Brighton Beach Bikes, was quoted in the Daily Mail, as saying: “I don't have a problem with people wearing that. Each to their own. Crack on and enjoy yourselves.”