Furore over Brunswick baths
By Pip Hinman
MELBOURNE — The Brunswick City Council may not be permitted to schedule women-only sessions at the Brunswick swimming pool because this would allegedly discriminate against men.
On March 5, the Equal Opportunity Board will hear a case against council plans for twice-weekly women-only sessions mainly to meet the needs of women from the area's large Muslim community.
The furore erupted after the council applied for temporary exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act to permit women-only sessions on Friday afternoons and evenings. Brunswick Council recreational officer Jo Lindley told Green Left Weekly that the proposal was mainly for Muslim women, whose religion forbids them to swim in the presence of men, and for other women who might may feel uncomfortable swimming with men.
Opponents of the council plan are claiming reverse discrimination, but Lindley says around 80% of the council's recreational resources are used mainly by men. "Most of the recreational budget is spent on the maintenance of the sports grounds. There are only a few women's teams."
Media commentary and correspondence have been very one-sided. The Age editorialised against special consideration for "a tiny minority ... whose ideas about modesty do not accord with those of the vast majority of the population".
Bryce Vessell, Democrat candidate for the seat of Melbourne, also supported the status quo in a letter to the February 26 Melbourne Times. However, Bob Lewis, Democratic Socialist candidate for the seat of Wills, rejects the "reverse discrimination" claims: "This is just playing with words. The heart of the matter is that the position of women and men in our society is not equal. Some modest measures to provide some separate space for women shouldn't be the occasion for howls of outrage", he said.