SYDNEY – An Auburn public pool has installed privacy curtains and introduced a two-hour women-only swim period on Sundays so that Muslim women can swim without being seen by other pool users.
“There was a lot of research done prior to construction and we identified that they were user groups that we wanted to accommodate,” Anthony McIntosh, the general manager of the Belgravia Leisure, which operates the council-run pool, told The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, May 17.
“Traditionally that core population group that would use the pool with the blinds closed would have to come after hours or at the earliest or latest possible times.
“Having the blinds means they can use it in the middle of the day and still have full access.”
The curtains installed were intended to overcome cultural barriers and encourage Muslim women to use the pool, Belgravia Leisure announced.
The lightweight curtain runs around the glass walls of the program pool where female-only swimming sessions are held for two hours each Sunday.
Pool staff can draw the curtain to block the view into pool when the sessions are held.
Though similar facilities have attracted controversy at other council pools within Australia, it is the right of the operator to section off the pool under the anti-discrimination act.
Section 126 states that exemptions to the act can be granted in order: “to provide people of a particular race with equal or improved access to facilities, services or opportunities to meet their special needs”.
“It is fairly common in the industry to have these types of spaces but they are usually blocked off with black plastic on a window,” McIntosh said.
“We have made conscious effort to make it more open and light.”
The move has been praised by Auburn Council general manager Malcolm Ryan.
“There was a very high demand for female-only classes at the aquatic center before redevelopment to cater for the differing modesty requirements,” he said.
“These classes were very popular but due to the center only having one pool before redevelopment, the high demand wasn’t being met.
“With the installation of curtains at the program pool, the Auburn Ruth Everuss Aquatic Center is inclusive to the whole community at all times and can cater to any requirement, without it impacting on the rest of the center.”
The new feature has been praised by Muslim women who hope this will encourage more women to join.
“There has been so much discussion about what women can wear in the pool and so many have turned away from swimming for that reason,” said Yusra Metwally, a keen swimmer at Auburn pool when she was younger who founded women’s swimming group Swim Sisters last year in a bid to keep young Muslim women in the sport.
“Having that option just means that there are more opportunities to get women swimming and more women in the pool who may have had barriers to enter a pool under ordinary circumstances.”
Forced to don modest swimsuits, known as Burkini, in public places, the Auburn pool new feature will allow women to wear what they wish.
“I was one of those women who didn’t like swimming in a burkini and for a long time I didn’t swim because of it,” she said.
“I remember when I was younger I was told by a lifeguard that my clothes weren’t appropriate for the pool — you feel like you are being policed and that you stand out.
“Some women are worried that what they wear in the pool can expose them to questions, comments or stares.”