Out of the pool, into the fire
Tukwila residents challenge popular women-only swim program at city’s pool
Jamila Farole loves swimming, but it was hard for her and others in Tukwila’s Muslim community to find a place where they felt comfortable.
For personal and religious reasons, she wanted a place to swim without men. So Farole and her sister paid $156 every weekend starting in the summer in 2010 to rent the city of Tukwila’s pool for two hours (“Testing the waters,” RC, June 29, 2011).
“Swimming is a favorite activity of mine,” said Farole, 28. “That’s the core of why I started this.”
The single-gender swimming time was so popular that pool staff this summer included it in the regular schedule.
Now a handful of Tukwila residents are trying to stop the women-only swims. They argue that it’s discriminatory to separate men and women at a publicly owned swimming pool.
“I don’t want to pay tax dollars to pay to discriminate against women,” said Robert Neuffer, a Tukwila resident who is opposed to the programs.
Neuffer and his wife Christine filed a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission (HRC) after Christine tried to enter the pool with her 10-year-old son during the men’s swim earlier this year, but pool staff did not let her in.
HRC denied the complaint because the Tukwila pool provides a period for men and another for women, said policy analyst Laura Lindstrom.
“We have male only bathrooms and female only bathrooms, and that’s OK,” Lindstrom said. “If we had male only bathrooms and no female bathrooms in a mall, that would be a problem.”
The Neuffers, undeterred, are seeking a human rights attorney to continue the fight.
“We’re actually emboldened,” Robert Neuffer said adding that they’re willing fight to change state laws if necessary.
Women-only swims were established at four of the city of Seattle’s swimming pools this year as a way to welcome people who could not access the pool for religious, cultural or personal reasons.
During the single-gender swims, the Tukwila pool hires lifeguards of the appropriate gender and covers all the windows while people swim. Every Sunday, women can use the pool without any men present and the windows are covered from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Men get their own 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tukwila is the only pool so far to offer single-gender swims to men.
The Tukwila program is among the few fitness options for Muslim women in Tukwila and SeaTac, where the health outcomes are poorer than the rest of King County, said Adam Taylor of the Global to
Local Initiative, a King County program established four years ago to improve health in South King County.
“One of the big challenges they face is finding culturally appropriate venues to be active,” Taylor said.
As many as 40 women attend the swimming session every Sunday, said Amy Kindell, who manages the Tukwila pool.
Neuffer says he’s opposing the swims in the name of equality and protecting women’s rights. He said it isn’t right for cultures or religions to separate women and men, and that the Tukwila Pool shouldn’t support that.
“This is just a form of sexism,” Neuffer said. “If a group of men did this originally, there would be a hue and cry.”
Farole, however, said she and other women are now allowed to participate in an activity where they were once excluded.
“It feels great to know that you’re helping a group of women become empowered to do an activity that isn’t very common in many communities,” she said.
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