At the same time as a controversial ban on burqinis has reportedly boosted sales of the modest swimwear, its creator has penned an Op-Ed saying she created the garment to increase freedom for women — not take it away. The garment has been outlawed in 15 towns in southeast France, opening a debate about whether the garment is oppressive or liberating — and whose business that is anyway.
In an Op-Ed for The Guardian, Aheda Zanetti explains how she was inspired to create modest sportswear suitable for Muslim girls wishing to observe religious strictures, after watching her niece struggle to be included in her school sports team, eventually playing in clothes that were unsuitable to the climate. “It got me thinking because when I was a girl I missed out on sport — we didn’t participate in anything because we chose to be modest, but for my niece I wanted to find something that would adapt to the Australian lifestyle and western clothing but at the same time fulfill the needs of a Muslim girl.”
The garment, she argues, extends an opportunity for participation in sporting events that would otherwise be prohibited. “I wanted girls to have the confidence to continue a good life. Sport is so important, and we are Australian! I wanted to do something positive — and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. It’s just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn’t want to wear a bikini, it’s not symbolizing Islam.”
Addressing the ban on the swimwear, Zanetti makes a provocative comparison between French lawmakers and the Taliban, saying, “Now they are demanding women get off the beach and back into their kitchens? This has given women freedom, and they want to take that freedom away? So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians? They are as bad as each other.”
In order to test the prototype burqini, Zanetti recalls, she swam in a public setting for the first time in her life, describing it as “absolutely beautiful.”
“I remember the feeling so clearly. I felt freedom, I felt empowerment, I felt like I owned the pool. I walked to the end of that pool with my shoulders back,” she writes. “Diving into water is one of the best feelings in the world. And you know what? I wear a bikini under my burkini. I’ve got the best of both worlds.”