Enacting and resisting the politics of belonging through leisure. The debate about gender-segregated swimming sessions targeting Muslim women in Denmark

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In 2016 women-only swimming sessions targeting Muslims made the headlines in the Danish media, precipitating great discussion about whether such sessions contributed to or impeded social integration. This article focuses on the debate in the city council of Aarhus concerning women-only swimming activities that had existed for 10 years and had been well attended. Yet, after a year of discussion, the city council voted for a municipality-wide ban on women-only swimming during public opening hours. The popularity and longevity of the sessions pose the question: Why and how has women-only swimming become a ‘problem’, in other words a leisure time physical activity that challenges current discourses on immigration and integration? The debate on women-only swimming is an interesting case to study as it testifies not only to an increasing focus on the civic integration of ethnic minorities, including their leisure practices, but also to strong resistance by the general public and the women affected. Drawing on a postcolonial feminist perspective, our analysis shows how perceptions of Danishness, gender equality and non-religious leisure become central arguments in the debate, pointing to various ways in which understandings of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and nation intersect in the current restrictive politics of belonging.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)706-720
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018


  • Gender
  • ethnicity
  • integration
  • physical activity
  • religion

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