In March, the city of Seattle will begin offering women-only swims at four city pools in order to serve women who cannot swim in a co-ed environment for cultural, personal or religious reasons.
For the past decade, private groups have rented the city’s pools to offer single-sex swims, drawing mostly Muslim women and some Orthodox Jews, along with some who chose the swims for personal reasons (“Women-only swims draw crowds but face challenges,” Real Change, June 29, 2011). The windows are covered during the swims, which are staffed by female lifeguards.
As grants and other funding for the swims began to dry up, demand for the swims continued to grow, and city officials wanted to find a way to sustain them. First, they had to change non-discrimination policies that made single-sex programs difficult to sustain.
“We felt that it was the right time and the right thing to do,” said Joelle Hammerstad, a spokesperson for the parks department.
Hammerstad said the policy change is consistent with the mayor’s emphasis on making city programs inclusive for immigrants and refugees, who have been coming to the swims in ever-greater numbers.
In fact, she noted, blinds were added to the Rainier Beach pool in order to facilitate single-sex swims.
Participants in single-sex swims will pay standard public attendance fees. The swims will be held at times when the pools have had the lowest usage in the past.
Single-sex swims will be held at Meadowbrook, Medgar Evers and Southwest pools. The program will also be extended to Rainier Beach Pool when it re-opens in fall 2013.
The area’s first single-sex swim, offered at Meadowbrook Pool in Northeast Seattle about 10 years ago, was just 1.5 hours per month. Several years later, the Rainier Beach program originated from a grant written by Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Now there are three locations serving as many as 120 women at a time.