WOMEN

HuffPost Her Stories: When Swimming As A Muslim Woman Becomes A Political Act

Plus: The reality of India’s beauty parlor workers.
Manar Hussein wears a burkini at a beach in New Jersey in June.
Manar Hussein wears a burkini at a beach in New Jersey in June.

Hi, readers!

Manar Hussein grew up in New Jersey and regularly spent time at the beach and her local pool when she was a child. One day, she noticed guests at the pool demanding that the lifeguard kick out a woman who was wearing a burkini. “No one stood up for her. No one did anything,” the Muslim woman recalled, noting the incident was one of the reasons she chose not to swim for many years after she started wearing a hijab.

Manar is one of 30 people HuffPost U.S. reporter Rowaida Abdelaziz spoke with for her article about swimming as a Muslim woman in America. “Not all of their experiences were negative,” Rowaida said, noting some had never encountered a problem. “Muslim women were also motivated to swim for different reasons, whether it was for their kids or wanting to become avid swimmers.”

But many women who desire to cover up at pools — a group that goes beyond just Muslims — still run into pushback from facility staff who don’t believe their attire is appropriate. “These institutions need to take a hard look at the environment they are setting up and who are they leaving out and ensure that their rules and those who enforce them are sensitive to and culturally aware of the diversity around them,” Rowaida said.

Rowaida, who talked with some of the women in the story for almost a year before it was published, tried to make the women feel comfortable while also finding ways to illustrate their reality. “To me, that meant hiring a photographer who was of the same background to help create a safe space for these women to be who they were,” she said, noting that photographer Khoolod Eid and the photo team carried that out deftly.

The responses Rowaida received to the article have included messages from Islamophobic trolls but also from many women who relate to the topic at hand. In addition, “many women have reached out to me stating they cover for nonreligious reasons and stood in solidarity with Muslim women,” she said.

Have you faced discrimination based on the attire you choose to wear while at a pool or beach? Share your story.

And I appreciate everyone who emailed me last week about their experiences in the workplace. Your many stories spanned decades and relayed frustrating treatment toward women who were single, childfree, divorced, pregnant and married. 

Until next time,

Follow Rowaida Abdelaziz (@Rowaida_Abdel) for more stories about Islamophobia and Muslim civil rights, and read her previous story about the road rage Muslim women face. Also follow HuffPost U.S. (@HuffPost) for news from the U.S. and beyond.

India's "parlour didis" are often the butt of jokes.
India's "parlour didis" are often the butt of jokes.

Women who work at India’s beauty parlors, known as “parlour didis,” remain the butt of jokes even amid movements for feminists to band together and support one another. But why? The parlor employees are often seen as bullies for suggesting particular treatments to “fix” their clients’ appearance. However, women in the industry told HuffPost India’s Piyasree Dasgupta that happens because they’re often pressured into selling more services to please their employer. “A girl like you, you know what you want, right? I don’t need to tell you. But owners in parlors always push you to keep badgering people,” said one woman who worked with an expensive parlor chain. Women in the industry also often lack support; Piyasree was unable to find an active trade union that advocates for the rights and welfare of parlor workers, who are paid meager salaries and often aren’t given benefits like sick leave.

After two miscarriages, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais decided to refer to herself as a “barren badass,” redefining what it meant to be
After two miscarriages, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais decided to refer to herself as a “barren badass,” redefining what it meant to be struggling with infertility.

After two miscarriages and finding out she had a fertility condition characterized by a low egg reserve, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais decided to refer to herself as a “barren badass,” redefining what it meant to be struggling with infertility. “It’s really hard when people feel sorry for you all the time or you kind of feel that way,” she told HuffPost Canada. “And for me to redefine it that, ‘Hey, you don’t have to feel sorry for me. I’m doing pretty good right now,’ it was very empowering for me.” Ariel used that strength to co-write a book of stories about infertility and pregnancy loss and to co-found a website, The 16 Percent, where women can discuss their experiences with those topics.

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