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Why women’s bodies are a political battleground again

By Jan Dalley

16 Sep 2016 · 7 min read

Aheda Zanetti has a way with words. Around 10 years ago the Lebanese-Australian designer spotted a gap in the market in her sporty homeland, and decided to create sharia-compliant sportswear that enabled devout Muslim women to run, swim, and take part in a whole range of sports. Perhaps most importantly, she coined some memorable terms for these styles: the hijood (hijab+hood) and the burkini (burka+bikini). The kind of memorable terms without which you can’t have a good argument.

And a good argument has ensued. The burkini, a hooded two-piece swimsuit that exposes only the face, hands and feet, became the most talked-about garment of the summer when a number of French towns banned it from their beaches. The world recoiled in shock and disbelief from images of armed policemen standing threateningly over a crouching woman, ordering her to remove her garments. Although the bans were quickly overruled in the courts, the vaunted French ideal of “liberté” had scored a massive own goal, and the phrase “body politic” had taken on another layer of meaning.

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