YMCA instructor Bernadine (left) with Gayas Fathima, who was afraid of the water before she started Muslim women-only swimming classes.
A public pool is being partially closed one night a week to give Muslim women the opportunity to enjoy some uninterrupted time in the water while they learn to swim.
WaterSafe Auckland is behind the initiative which sees a dedicated teaching pool at Cameron Pool and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA in Mt Roskill closed for two hours every Thursday night for Muslim women-only swimming lessons.
The programme, born of an identified need for a culturally appropriate programme delivered in a culturally appropriate space, has attracted a lengthy waiting list of mainly migrant women in addition to the almost 50 already participating in the classes.
Despite the name, the lessons are inclusive of all women, who for a variety of cultural, religious and health reasons, feel more comfortable swimming in a relaxed female-only environment.
The lessons are aimed at improving the confidence of women in and around the water, encouraging physical activity and building quality relationships, while developing knowledge of water safety, which the women share with their own families.
“A lot of these ladies do come from difficult backgrounds, so it is a place for them to feel safe and secure while they integrate into the community,” said Cameron Pools centre manager Sarah Clarke.
Clarke said some of the women, who are aged16 to 60, have migrated to New Zealand from war-torn countries.
“Some have gone through some horrendous stuff that we can’t even comprehend and [swimming lessons] are the only social aspect of their new lives.”
Gayas Fathima, 33, is one of the migrant women who attends the classes at Cameron Pools.
Fathima said she was scared of the water when she moved to New Zealand from India, with her husband and three children.
“This programme is so important to me as it gives me an opportunity to learn a vital skill. I didn’t know how to swim before this and didn’t have comfort time or a facility like this [in India].
“Having this programme available for us Muslim ladies helps us to learn swimming, stay fit and be able to learn water survival skills too.”
With the help of YMCA instructor Bernadine, Fathima said she has become a more comfortable and confident swimmer and is now able to ensure the safety of her children while spending some quality time with them in and around the water.
There are four, half hour lessons every Thursday ranging in ability level and run by female instructors.
The beginner classes are fully funded to lure more women who have never had any exposure to swimming, into the water. More advanced sessions are subsidised to $5 a class, a fee which helps ensure the programme is sustainable.
“We are fully booked out, the classes are very popular,” said Clarke.
“The goal is to put more classes on.”
Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand spokesperson Anjum Rahman said it was important that swimming lessons were available to everyone.
“Some women will not have gone through any swimming training. It is important that those services are available to all ratepayers and the needs of all ratepayers,” Rahman said.
“It isn’t wrong to ask for public facilities to be responsive to the needs of the community.”
Rahman said there was a nation-wide demand for these classes from the Muslim community as well as other women.
“It is not just Muslim women that these classes are important for. There are quite a few women interested from other communities.
“For us [the classes are important] for religious reasons but for other women it may be about their body or confidence.”
The Muslim women-only swimming classes run back-to-back from 6.30pm to 8.30pm every Thursday night in the ‘learn to swim’ pool at Cameron Pools in Mt Roskill.