The burkini does not symbolise Islam, it symbolises leisure and happiness and fitness and health. So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians?
When I invented the burkini in early 2004, it was to give women freedom, not to take it away. My niece wanted to play netball but it was a bit of a struggle to get her in the team she was wearing a hijab. My sister had to fight for her daughter to play, had to debate the issue and ask, why is this girl prevented from playing netball because of her modesty?
When she was finally allowed to play we all went to watch her to support her and what she was wearing was totally inappropriate for a sports uniform a skivvy, tracksuit pants, and her hijab, totally unsuitable for any type of sport. She looked like a tomato she was so red and hot!
So I went home and went looking for something that might be better for her to wear, sportswear for Muslim girls, and I couldnt find anything, I knew there was nothing in Australia. It got me thinking because when I was a girl I missed out on sport we didnt participate in anything because we chose to be modest, but for my niece I wanted to find something that would adapt to the Australian lifestyle and western clothing but at the same time fulfil the needs of a Muslim girl.
So I sat down on my lounge room floor and designed something. I looked at the veil and took away a lot of the excess fabric, which made me nervous – would my Islamic community accept this? The veil is supposed to cover your hair and your shape, you just dont shape anything around your body. But this was shaped around the neck. I thought, its only the shape of a neck, it doesnt really matter.
Before I launched it I produced a sample with a questionnaire to find out what people would think – would you wear this? Would this encourage you to be more active? Play more sport? Swim? A lot of people in my community didnt know how to accept this, but I developed it commercially and made a good business.
The burkini came to everyones attention when Surf Lifesaving Australia introduced a program to integrate Muslim boys and girls into surf lifesaving after the Cronulla riots they had a young Muslim girl who wanted to compete in an event. She wore a burkini.
After September 11, the Cronulla riots, the banning of the veil in France, and the international backlash that came with it about us being the bad people all because of a few criminals who do not speak on behalf of Muslims I really didnt want anyone to judge girls wearing these. Its only a girl being modest.
It was about integration and acceptance and being equal and about not being judged. It was difficult for us at the time, the Muslim community, they had a fear of stepping out. They had fear of going to public pools and beaches and so forth, and I wanted girls to have the confidence to continue a good life. Sport is so important, and we are Australian! I wanted to do something positive and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. Its just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesnt want to wear a bikini, its not symbolising Islam.