Human rights panel to keep women-only hours at public pools

AP News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2016 6:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Women-only swimming hours will continue at two city pools, accommodating mostly Orthodox Jewish women.

Normally such gender discrimination would be banned under New York Human Rights Laws. However, the New York City Commission on Human Rights has the power to grant exceptions to that rule based on gender or age. Two exceptions were granted Wednesday after a months' long review of the legality of the special swimming sessions. An anonymous tip of possible human rights violations earlier this year prompted the initial review.

The Met Pool in Williamsburg will decrease its women-only swim hours from 6.5 to four hours per week. The pool at the St. Johns Recreation Center in Crown Heights will continue to offer two hours per week. The adjusted hours go into effect at the end of the summer.

Currently there are also men-only swimming hours at the St. John's location, two hours per week. The park's department also submitted a request for an exception to the human rights laws for the men's hours, however it was denied. And come the fall, there will be no men's swimming hours.

The women-only sessions at the two pools in Brooklyn are open to women of all religions but cater mostly to Orthodox Jewish women, whose beliefs bar them from bathing with men.

"They are creating an exemption based on the personal and religious beliefs of a certain community," said Erin Harrist, a senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "The whole point of the human rights law is to treat everyone equal on the basis of sex and to make sure people are not discriminated against that basis."

In a statement from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, one of the reasons given for the necessity of women-only swim hours was "body-consciousness concerns." Harrist said it's highly concerning and indicative of the gender-bias of the decision.

New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind was a strong advocate for the conservation of the special swim sessions.

"This is a great victory of human rights, especially for women. I couldn't be prouder to be a New Yorker than today," he said, stressing that this was not an issue of religion but rather about the special needs of women.