This is an article written by Different Strokes Swimming Director, Kari Baynes which has just been published on LinkedIn. It talks about the wonderful experience Kari and her team have had assisting the growing number of Muslim women who are learning to swim. It highlights the need for regular women – only sessions in 50m pools, which Kari feels is the next step in helping many female swimmers reach their goal of swimming in the ocean.

Privacy Required for Modest Muslim Women Swimmers

“All credit to our band of determined women, as they continue to push the boundaries of their swimming. Always appreciative, they often remain at the pool after class, to practice.”

The local pool is a community hub. It’s where friendships are formed, swimmers train and children learn to swim. In Sydney, our local pools offer a relaxing space in a busy city. Families come to cool off in summer and cultures blend. Yet, not all members of the community can truly relax and experience the centre’s offerings. I’ve come into contact with a sector of our community with special requirements.

My learn-to-swim school was approached to assist a group of Muslim women to learn to swim. We were told many have a big goal in mind; they want to swim in the ocean.  Ocean swimming is one of the fastest growing sports, with hundreds and even thousands entering in events on Sydney beaches each summer. It is one of the most liberating feelings, swimming in the ocean. We also learned they want to swim on their terms. This means a women-only squad. And to swim in a costume which makes them feel most comfortable. If they are in a public pool, this means bodies fully covered and body shape not detectable.

I said yes to the request and unique classes were created!

It has been an extraordinary experience working with these women. They arrive, covered from head to toe in flowing garments, ready to jump into the water and get on with their swimming. The group is warm, chatty and keen. The ease they exhibit with themselves and each other is palpable.

The group already has close to one hundred members, and this is sure to increase next summer. Many are new to swimming, yet they are so enthusiastic. Our lane at the pool is a sea of flowing black, as groups of women learn or improve their swimming.

As I get to know my new clients, I find myself wondering about their individual stories. I am fascinated by an unknown culture and its conventions. Where have they been all my life? We have lived in the same city, yet I don’t know them at all. There is much which is very different to my experience, but much is the same. They are us and we are them. The lives we live shape us but don’t define us. The common goal; we are all passionate about swimming and helping swimmers less capable meet the challenges of the water.

We have all fallen in love with this group. My instructors are happy to travel the forty minutes or more to spend an hour and a half teaching them how to swim. To be among this group of women is soothing. A wonderful experience each week. We have become very protective, watching over them in the lane, ensuring they have the best possible experience at the pool.

We are in awe of the women. They manage to swim draped in flowing cloth. We teach them how to swim freestyle and share the joy of the water and all it offers. But, we have become increasingly aware of just how difficult it is to swim fully clothed. How hard it is to stay buoyant, to gain full movement of your arms when restricted by fabric.

It reminds me of antiquated black and white pictures of women swimming in the Victorian era, the difficulty they encountered. The ability to learn breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly effectively is certainly hampered.

Like other Sydney women, in all kinds of sport, this group trains after work. Like many, they train with their own gender. But these women would benefit from privacy. They could train without the restraint of flowing cloth. Melbourne, it seems, is more progressive in this way, offering private women-only sessions at suitable times and a variety of locations. Why not the same in Sydney?

It’s two years since the local pool complex launched a privacy curtain session to encourage and enable modest Muslim girls and women to swim. The curtained off women-only session operates in the program pool, not designed for lap swimming, for a few daylight hours each week. This wonderful initiative has been very popular. The small pool gets filled with mums, daughters and grandmothers who require privacy. But next level support is needed for our more ambitious Muslim women swimmers.

I’m requesting a regular women-only session in a 50metre pool, where the growing squad (and other women) can be guaranteed complete privacy. Without being visible to men, our swimmers can remove their Modesty Suit and swim freely, without the drag of the loose fabric. The modesty suit is key to enabling our swimmers into the pool, and while some closely fitted suits create little resistance in the water, others can be weighty. By offering a private women’s only session, they could truly experience the strength and beauty of our national sport, swimming.

All credit to our band of determined women, as they continue to push the boundaries of their swimming. Always appreciative, they often remain at the pool after class, to practice. These future ocean swimmers are committed, and I know they will embrace every opportunity given. I’m already envisaging the community and cultural ripples of a squad of accomplished Muslim female ocean swimmers.

Different Strokes Swimming and Kari Baynes wish to acknowledge Yusra Metwally, Founder of the Swim Sisters Squad, for the terrific partnership they have formed.