Sally Hall: Women-only beaches may prove to be a mixed blessing

Are segregated beaches a good idea?
Are segregated beaches a good idea?
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Sadly, this week symbolises the end of the holiday season for most of us. It’s estimated that three-quarters of Brits take their annual holiday in July and August.

And according to a survey by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), up to 44 per cent headed straight for the beach.

That’s a lot of factor 20 getting slathered on our lobster-hued skin.

It’s a monstrous cliché, but I’d say the traditional image of ‘Brits abroad’ in Benidorm or Alcudia does offer a fairly accurate representation of many people’s experience.

Towels on the sun lounger at dawn, full English by the promenade, and a few too many beers in the evening.

It’s not my thing, I have to admit.

And despite the enduring popularity of the traditional sand-and-sangria mash-up, I’m not alone in hoping the format might diversify.

If you like beaches and lounging by the pool, but you’re not too keen on getting legless or eating filthy burgers – and you don’t want to be eyed up when bikini-clad by lechy blokes – where can you go?

This is a question increasingly asked by the three million British Muslims whose holiday cash is currently under-exploited by the tourism industry.

In response, a number of ‘Halal hotels’ have recently been established in predominantly Muslim countries like Morocco and Indonesia – and especially Turkey, where (according to the BBC) there are now as many as 50 Muslim-focused resorts catering for up to 5 million guests per year.

Only halal food is served in such hotels, which also have strictly segregated bathing spaces for men and women, and offer segregated prayer spaces as well.

The segregation extends beyond the hotel’s grounds, spilling out on to Turkey’s beaches, an increasing number of which are being offered as ‘women-only’ spaces.

Observers report a relaxed atmosphere on these beaches, with women often stripping off to bikinis (though sometimes still with headscarves), reassured by the knowledge they will go unobserved by men.

Turkish opposition MP Aylin Nazliaka has denounced this policy of segregating beaches, telling the BBC that “women are being torn away from social spaces” and confined to “little prisons”.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I wonder about the practicalities. Where do the kids go? Wouldn’t it be sad not to be able to do silly things like build sandcastles as a family or have a game of volleyball together? Will it mean women start to feel unsafe on mixed beaches?

The political implications should also be considered. Many commentators in Turkey see this as part of an Islamicisation of the state, which could have far-reaching consequences.

But on another level, I like the idea of women-only beaches. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling on my own, and going to the beach by yourself is a guaranteed pest-attractor.

As a 22-year-old working in Sydney, Australia, I would frequent a gay nudist beach in an obscure corner of the city rather than chance my luck in hotspots like Bondi.

It was a great solution.

At first I was totally ignored.

Then after a few weeks, the regulars started to offer me fatherly advice (which was actually very sweet).

Either way, I could guarantee I’d never get perved at.

Halal hotels are an interesting development which could create a paradigm shift for the beach holiday. And, controversial as they may be, women-only beaches (if offered amongst a range of other public spaces occupied by both women and men) seem a valid choice for any lady who would like to avoid being pestered .

Sarah Champion MP

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