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Gender-segregated swimming

  • April 2024

In the spring of 2024, the Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek urged 12 Danish municipalities to “use all means to prevent public buildings from being used for anything that… goes against what Denmark should be”. The issue was gender-separated swimming, a topic which has been an on and off the integration debates for more than a decade. The issue at stake is whether women-only hours in public swimming facilities is inclusive in that it extends activities to women, in particular women, who for reasons of cultural and religious-based norms of modesty will not attend gender-mixed activities; or whether offering gender-separated swimming is lending legitimacy to gender segregation in general – and to Islamist ideology more specific.
The current debates were sparked by a law proposal in 2023 from members of the immigration-critical Danish People’s party to outlaw gender-separated use. This bill was rejected by a majority vote. As part of the political process, a survey was sent out to the municipalities. Out of the 98 municipalities, 92 responded and among these, 11 (Ballerup, Brøndby, Fredericia, Haderslev, Kolding, København, Odense, Randers, Roskilde, Aalborg, Aarhus) stated that they know about gender-segregated swimming being offered by voluntary organisations in the municipal swimming facilities, while in one case, Sønderborg, the activities were part of the municipal offers of activities. These 12 municipalities received a letter from the minister.

The responses from the municipalities showed how the shutdown of municipality offered gender-segregated swimming, which began in 2017 when the municipality in Aarhus decided to no longer offer this activity, appears to have led voluntary swimming associations to take over. There is no overview of the consequences of the change, but the example from Aarhus indicated that the number of women attending appears stable. In Copenhagen, about 941 girls and women attend gender-separated swimming in a club with a total of 30.352 members, which means that the percentage of members attending gender-segregated activities is about 3 percent. The discussion is, however, not about volume but about principles, and also about who decides – the Minister or the municipalities. So far, the municipalities have refused to comply with the Minister’s to take action.

D 29 April 2024    ALene Kühle

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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