Ridiculous. Discrimination. Rubbish. Backwards. Bullsh*t.
These are words I’ve seen thrown around today. Not to describe, say, a certain employer demanding his female staff wear skirts – and bare legs.
But to describe a community swimming pool.
Over in Sydney’s west, Cumberland Council’s Auburn Ruth Everess Aquatic Centre recently reopened after undergoing major refurbishments. Of the five pools at the complex, one has had privacy curtains installed around it for new women-only sessions, run under the secure eye of female lifeguards.
For a grand total of three hours a week, across Wednesdays and Sundays, the curtains that surround the pool are drawn to gift women a safe space to bathe. Women of all ages and shapes and colours. That includes Muslim women, who previously might never have dipped more than their toe inside the pool.
Normally, women who wear hijabs have to invest in bathers such as burkinis, swim after hours, or not swim at all.
So the simple introduction of private women-only sessions, for three hours a week, removes any barriers local Muslim women may face that prevent them from setting foot at their community pool.
Yet the focus in the Daily Telegraph coverage today has been on "controversy". To commenters, it's multiculturalism gone too far, it's discrimination against men and non-Muslims.
But the outrage is completely misguided. This is inclusivity, not segregation.
What has been ignored is that these three hours a week are not preventing locals from swimming at the Auburn pool. Nobody is being booted from the aquatic centre when there are four other pools in use. Quite the opposite. This is welcoming even more in.
That includes Muslim women who cannot swim as freely when men are present. But also the elderly, people with disabilities, individuals recovering from injuries, and simply people who need additional privacy to feel comfortable venturing into a pool, away from judgement.
In other words, it is a community facility working exactly as it should - serving all members of its community.
Female-only swimming is not a new idea. Many council-run facilities in Australia have introduced this. And like Auburn's aquatic centre discovered, there is a strong demand for it.
Just look at the McIvers Baths in Coogee, which have been operating successfully as a women-only space since 1876.
Any woman who has swum at the ocean pool vouches for how liberating it is. As writer Sarah Berry put it a couple of years ago:
"I stopped seeing my body through the eyes of the men around me. For the first time, my body was my own. Before stepping foot in McIvers I hadn’t even realised men owned more than just the spaces I occupied. I’d let them own my body too. But not anymore."
There are very few spaces in the world which women can claim. Where they can exist completely free from unwanted eyes. Where their bodies can bear their beautiful imperfections without the weight of unrealistic body standards. Where they aren't bound by the constraints of societal structures.
So there sure as hell is room to allow for a local pool in western Sydney to gift women - ALL women - a space of their own.
Even if it's just for three hours a week.
LISTEN: Randa Abdel-Fattah on racism, Islamophobia and her novel.