For two hours a day, twice a week, only women are allowed to swim in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Recreation Center pool.
Some people are outraged. When women-only hours were first instituted a few months ago, civil libertarians felt that the policy privileged Hasidic Jewish women — who don’t feel comfortably dressing immodestly — over everyone else.
“It has all the earmarks of a religious exemption,” the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times. “People have every right to go swimming in a gender-segregated environment pursuant to their religious beliefs, but not on the taxpayer dime.”
After several anonymous complaints from residents, the city’s Parks and Recreations department decided to uphold the policy, but reduce them from four two-hour blocks per week to two two-hour blocks per week. The pool has had women-only swimming times since the 1990s.
“Women-only swimming hours provide an important accommodation to New Yorkers who may feel more secure and comfortable in a single-sex environment,” spokesperson Sam Biederman told DNAinfo. The schedule accommodates Hasidic Jews, many of whom live near the pool and who don’t feel comfortable being immodestly dressed around men. Many of them used the pool while wearing dresses, which violated the pool’s rules.
The women-only hours also accommodate women who have a “history of domestic violence or abuse, history of sexual violence or abuse, body-consciousness concerns,” the Parks department said in a statement.
The situation got national attention when The New York Times Editorial Board blasted the policy last month, saying it was “unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access.”
As other people have pointed out, other cities have had women-only swimming hours for years. The government-funded YMCA in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the St. Paul Police Department launched women-only swimming hours in 2013, to let Muslim women — many of who also don’t feel comfortable being immodestly dressed around men — learn how to swim. The city locks the men’s locker room, hires female life guards, and helps provide transportation for the women.
Harvard University also has women-only gym hours, as reported by The New York Times but not denounced by its Editorial Board. There are also women-only swim hours created to accommodate Muslim women in San Diego, Seattle, Princeton, and George Washington University. It looks like the policy is here to stay.
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