France has 'misunderstood' burkini, Australian designer says

Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:19am EDT
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By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The French authorities have misunderstood why the burkini was created and should not turn it into a symbol of division, the Australian designer of the swimsuit said on Wednesday.

The burkini swimsuit made international headlines after the mayors of Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and the Corsican seaside resort of Sisco banned it last week, arguing the burkini, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism.

"They have misunderstood what the burkini is all about," said Aheda Zanetti, adding that anyone, no matter their religion, could wear it.

"I hope that they understand that it's not something that symbolizes anything - that anyone can wear it, that it's not harming anything in any way."

With the sun and surf an integral part of the Australian lifestyle, Zanetti designed the swimsuit in 2004 so Muslim women, who choose to wear a head covering like the hijab, could participate in water activities and other sports.

"The burkini was designed for freedom, flexibility and confidence. It was designed to integrate into Australian society," she said in a phone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Sydney.

Zanetti said she is perplexed the burkini has attracted so much attention, given its normalcy in Australia.

"Look what's happening in Syria or in Italy," she said, referring to the ongoing Syrian conflict and an earthquake that killed more than 70 people in Italy on Wednesday.   Continued...

Aheda Zanetti (L), designer of the Burkini swimsuit, adjusts one of the swimsuits on model Salwa Elrashid at her fashion store in Sydney, August 23, 2016.   REUTERS/Jason Reed