More Finnish swimming pools offering women-only hours

A number of swimming pools in Finland are introducing shifts or courses geared towards immigrants, especially women.

Sheida Mohammadi, an immigrant from Iran, wants to learn how to swim properly. Image: Minna Rosvall / Yle

Several public as well as private swimming pools in Finland are taking measures to encourage immigrants, particularly women, to learn how to swim.

The Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation, an organisation dedicated to improving swimming skills and reducing drowning deaths in Finland, has launched a course aimed at cultivating swimming skills and knowledge among immigrants.

It will be organised by the Raseko Raisio Regional Education and Training Consortium, a partner company of the federation, in Raisio, southwest Finland. The course is part of the "swimming skills for all" project (siirryt toiseen palveluun) (in Finnish) that has been funded by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

Sheida Mohammadi, who moved to Finland from Iraq four years ago, goes for a swim once a week with her child and plans to join the course.

"I have only been in the water with my child. Not being able to swim properly is a problem. I like the water, and can visit the pool in my burkini. In the future, I plan to swim more often and for longer distances once I learn how," she said.

Instruction in native language

The swimming course has received an enthusiastic response from users. "Our goal is to have immigrant background instructors who can teach courses in their own language within a few years," Chairman of the Board of the Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation Jukka Rantala explained.

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Outi Penkkala said she has seen the joy exercise can bring to those not used to it. Image: Minna Rosvall / Yle

"Initially we had doubts about whether we would get enough students for a full batch, but the reception was great and we got a lot of people," Outi Penkkala, a teacher at Raseko, said.

There has been much discussion about the use of different kinds of swimwear in Finnish swimming pools. Mohammadi said that she has not received any negative backlash or comments about the burkini she wears when she goes swimming at the pool or the beach.

Gulbahar Afghan and Mahziwar Ahmadi, whoboth moved to Finland from Afghanistan, never had the chance to swim in their home country. "Swimming at the same time as men is not possible. It is forbidden in our culture," Afghan explained.

Afghan and Ahmadi will be able to participate in the swimming course in Raisio, as there are separate courses for men and women.

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Gulbahar Afghan and Mahziwar Ahmadi watched as Sheida Mohammadi (center) swam in a burkini. Image: Minna Rosvall / Yle

"We are a bit scared of the water, but we want to learn how to swim. We are slightly nervous about the course. Swimming is good exercise, that’s why we want to learn," they said.

Enthusiastic response

Dozens of women swim during the women-only shift every week at the Petrelius swimming pool in Turku. Sometimes there are so many swimmers that not everyone gets a chance to use the pool.

"The women enjoy the pool from start to finish time," Christina Nokkola, who organises women-only shifts at the ÅSK swimming club in Turku, said.

The privately-owned Turun Uimahalli (Turku swimming pool) also offers separate swimming days for women and men. The pool allows any swimwear made of swimsuit fabric, including those with long sleeves and leggings like burkinis.

Public swimming pools in Turku also permit women to swim in burkinis. Not all swimming pools in Finland allow this kind of swimwear. That said, the non-discrimination ombudsman has recommended that all public swimming pools in Finland should permit the use of burkinis.