Merton swimming pools only available to Muslim women two hours a week


Muslim women in Merton are missing out on swimming with their families due to a shortage of female lifeguards.


By Lindsay Watling, Harriet Marsh, Jonathan Ellis, Claire Fox and Richard Binks

Muslim women in Merton are missing out on swimming with their families due to a shortage of female lifeguards.

Some pools offer one hour women-only sessions, but this is little help to devout Muslim women without the promise of a female lifeguard.

Only one of the borough’s public swimming pools can guarantee a time in the week when Muslim women can swim in a male-free zone.

The Malden Centre has a female lifeguard between 5 and 7pm on Sundays.

However, Nina Ahmad, Women’s Health and Fitness Secretary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, says it gets really busy because it’s the only chance for Muslim women to go.

She added: “It took almost one year to get the male-free zone sorted out; we really had to fight.”

Wimbledon Leisure Centre is keen to resolve the issue and increase participation.

Manager James Brackenborough said: “We are always keeping our eyes open for new staff, but unfortunately not many women want to be lifeguards.”

A Canons Leisure Centre spokesman says shift-work is a further obstacle.

The lack of female lifeguards is not the only issue Muslim women have faced. 

Until the invention of the Burkini, a waterproof all-body swimsuit, Muslim women had to wear their normal clothes in the pool to cover up.

This was dangerous and breached health and safety regulations.

“I’ve had situations where I had to request that a lady did not enter the pool because I was worried about her safety,” said Mr Brackenborough.

“If these purpose-made costumes get rid of the extra drag on the swimmer then they will be a lot safer to use.”

He hopes the Burkini will encourage more Muslim women to take up swimming and feel more comfortable while doing so.

“We see the Burkini as a positive move. It represents the removal of a barrier to make swimming more accessible,” he added.

The acid test is the Burkini’s popularity with the women themselves.  Mrs Ahmad said: “It has made it easier to swim in places where I wasn’t previously able to go. It has made a big, big difference to my life.”

Female-only swimming in the borough is available as follows:

Wimbledon Leisure Centre: Thursday 8-9pm

Canons Leisure Centre: Wednesday 9-10pm

The Malden Centre: Sunday 5-7pm (female lifeguard),Wednesday 9-10am (male lifeguard)

Picture by topicagnostic

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