Western Sydney’s Auburn Ruth Everuss Aquatic Centre has installed curtains around its swimming pool to encourage more females to dive in.
For the area’s large Muslim community, it not only offers privacy, but safety too.
The council-owned centre says there was a high demand for female-only sessions. Many choose the option due to faith, but others simply want to enjoy the water without men.
“It means they can dress more comfortably, wear a bathing suit and participate in swimming lessons much more easily,” said Silma Ihram of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association.
The curtains will be drawn for two hours every Sunday but the centre will have three other pools open during that time for anyone who wants to use them.
“I’m a Muslim woman, I wear the hijab, you’d feel more comfortable, you can wear whatever you want to wear,” a local Muslim woman said.
“No sin for us – no men looking,” another woman said.
The reaction from locals is mixed, with some fearing the barrier is a step backwards.
“This is really doubling down on community divisions, because it’s sending the message to Muslim girls that they’re somehow second class citizens,” said Dr Jeremy Sammut of The Centre for Independent Studies.
Cumberland Council refused to comment.