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Mayor to Consider Expanding Contentious Women-Only Hours at Met Pool

By Gwynne Hogan | May 17, 2017 3:23pm
 Should the city do away with the women-only swim at the Metropolitan Recreation Center?
Should the city do away with the women-only swim at the Metropolitan Recreation Center?
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — The mayor promised Tuesday night to reconsider the reduced hours dedicated to the contentious women-only swim at the Metropolitan Recreation Center, after nearly a year of refusing to budge on the issue.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't commit to expanding the women-only hours, he said at a town hall meeting that he would review whether the pool was not being used during the hours taken away from the women only last July.

"I’ve not gotten a report on what the usage of the pool has been," he said. "We should look at what's happening day by day and give that due consideration."

The issue was brought up at a Borough Park town hall by Williamsburg swimmer Esther Weiss, 51, who insisted that the Metropolitan Recreation Center's pool is empty during four hours that were siphoned off from the women's eight hours at the pool.

"Instead of 70 to 100 women on a Monday morning, there are seven people swimming," she said. "The pool is literally empty because they took it away for the women's swim."

"We love it. We need it back," she said.

Since last July, Weiss and other women who use the Metropolitan Pool, most of whom are the neighborhoods Hasidic women who don't swim with men because they adhere to strict rules of modesty, have been meeting with elected officials and organizing to try to get their eight hours at the pool restored as well as additional hours they say they deserve.

But for months, their cries have fallen on the deaf ears of the Parks Department, which has refused to budge on the issue.

Leading up to the Parks Department cutting the women hours back, the Human Rights Commission had been looking into whether the all-women swim violated the city's Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender.

The commission ultimately struck a bargain with the Parks Department allowing women-only swim to be an exemption to the law.

However, the Parks Department decided to cut the hours in half anyway, after public pressure from secular swimmers who argued the Hasidic women were getting special treatment at the pool and civil rights watchdog groups like the NYCLU who argued a religious group shouldn't get to dictate how public space is used.

The swimmers countered that the hours served religious and non-religious women alike.

The issue sparked nation-wide debate about how public facilities are used.