tiistai 24. elokuuta 2010

HS: Minority Ombudsman to examine gym locker room prayer ban

Helsingin Sanomat: Minority Ombudsman to examine gym locker room prayer ban 24.8.2010

Espoo fitness centre does not want Muslim women to pray in locker room

Minority Ombudsman Eva Biaudet plans to investigate whether or not the Espoo-based Lady Fitness gym is guilty of discrimination because of its ban on Muslim prayers in its locker room.
Biaudet plans to ask the fitness centre, located in the Entresse shopping complex in the Espoon Keskus district of the city, to explain the reasons for the ban.

Women arriving at the centre on Monday were surprised to see a sign on the wall of the locker room asking people to hold their possible prayers outside the gym.
The sign read “the locker room is a religion and politics-free zone, where everyone can spend their free time in a neutral manner”.

Riding on an exercise bicycle, Agemine Fallenius is not disturbed by Muslim prayers at all.
“I know that the Muslim religion calls for prayers five times a day. I feel that we need to respect the culture and customs of others”, Fallenius says.
The owner of the gym, P-C Nordensved, says that the decision to ban prayers came after years of complaints, dating back to when the gym was in another location nearby.

Large numbers of immigrants live in this area of Espoo, and there are many Muslims among them.
There are dozens of Muslim women who go to the gym.
“Some of them have very weak language skills, and they deal with membership issues through an interpreter. The ones that have lived here longer have adapted to our customs”, Nordensved says.

The shopping mall does not have a meditation room where the Muslims could hold their daily prayers. “Might there be a room in the public library to which they could be guided?” Nordensved ponders.
He plans to take up the matter next Tuesday at a meeting of shop owners at the mall.

Walking in the door in black Muslim attire is Piia Keskinen, who has been a member of the gym for two and a half years.
“I have prayed here once, and I have seen others pray”, she says.
Keskinen feels that the locker room is not an appropriate location for prayers, because it is not quiet. “I also understand that others might feel strange about it.”
She also notes that there is a mosque 500 metres away.

The proprietor of the gym hopes that Keskinen might pass on the message to her own community. “The community might think about the matter among themselves and give guidance on how to behave.”
Minority Ombudsman Biaudet notes that the practice of religion is a human right, which is guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution.
Finland also has a law on equal treatment. “It applies to the offering of private services. It bans discrimination, both direct and indirect, against people of different ethnic origin.”