Allow Girls to Skip Mixed-Gender Swimming Lessons


Target: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Goal: Allow girls to skip mixed-gender swimming lessons

Germany’s federal administrative court recently ruled against a young woman who wanted to skip mandatory swimming lessons at school out of a concern for modesty. Not wishing to see boys in a state of undress as required by her religious beliefs, Asmae from Frankfurt in Main advanced the argument that the girl’s right to the freedom of religion should not override the state’s right to impose education requirements on students. It instead advised that the girl should participate in mixed-gender swimming sessions with some special accommodations that would take into account her desire for modesty, for example a full-body bathing suit.

In issuing its judgement, however, the court dismissed the validity of the girl’s assertion that she felt uncomfortable being around undressed boys. The idea that women have no right to seek exemption from co-ed sports where both genders are undressed has no ground in the practical everyday experience of women. This experience has shown that some women prefer to exercise at gyms or swim at pools that are restricted to their own gender. This choice isn’t always motivated by religious convictions. It is often simply an issue of women wanting to feel comfortable. Activities like exercising or swimming that draw attention to the body make some women feel the need for privacy. The presence of undressed and physically active males at their side may make them feel like they are being intruded upon.

Germany should understand that women have a right to be uncomfortable about exercising and swimming with men. The argument that skipping classes for that reason interferes with the state’s  duty to fulfill its education requirements needs to be reconsidered. The young woman in this case who doesn’t want to participate in the particular swimming lessons offered by her school could receive the same instruction in an alternative setting, either within the education establishment or with a private teacher. In fact, the school could set up special swimming classes for women only so that other girls with the same predicament wouldn’t have to choose between swimming with men or not swimming altogether. Or, as mentioned above, the girl’s family could send her to take individual swimming lessons at a private swimming club.

Either way, there is absolutely no excuse for the German court or the German state to decide that a girl’s discomfort of swimming together with undressed men in their bathing trunks is something that has to be ignored. Germany may be a country where much of its female population doesn’t really feel bothered by a man’s partial nudity at the gym or the beach. But that doesn’t give its courts the right to assume that every woman has to be comfortable with sharing space with undressed men. A little cultural sensitivity goes a long way.

Sign this petition to urge Germany to respect young women’s discomfort with male nudity and pass a law that would offer them alternatives to mixed-gender swimming lessons at school.


Dear Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

It is crucial for the German state to respect its women’s rights to modesty with respect to men. Although many women feel absolutely no discomfort with sharing space with partially-exposed males at swimming pools, there are many who do. It isn’t a question of whether they are actually threatened by the men, or whether the sight of a man in swimming trunks should be offensive to them. It is simply a question of comfort. Many of them choose to exercise in gender-restricted gyms and swim at gender-restricted pools because they feel most at ease among other women as they work out and splash around in the water.

That is why we would like to urge you to not let this precedent of forcing girls to swim together with boys at school stand. We hope that you together with the German Bundestag introduce a law to allow them to complete their swimming lessons either in girls-only classes at their school or with a private instructor outside of the school. By giving girls such an opportunity to avoid swimming together with boys, you will be making issues of body modesty a personal choice for the individual women. It is they who deserve to decide their comfort level with sharing space with undressed men, and the courts should not make the choice for them.

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: gabyu via Flickr

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