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The Greens, who govern in a coalition with the Social Democrats and consider themselves a feminist party, have been particularly affected by gender debate.

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“Our ambition is for them to be used equally by girls and boys, men and women.”But the trend is not just about achieving 50-50 visitor figures.

For decades, Swedish city swimming pools have operated mixed-gender pools, but by adding women-only hours, officials are hoping to accommodate the country's growing Muslim population.

“Swimming pools are a meeting place for women where they feel comfortable talking to one another, and women-only swimming hours make it an even better meeting point,” says Ms. “A woman who is being beaten by her husband won't want other men to see her bruises in the swimming pool.

But she will feel comfortable talking to other women about it there.”Qaali Shire, a Muslim Somali mother of three, who lives in Malmö and was recently granted asylum, suggests something similar.

Or does the implementation of such segregation, however well intended, ultimately undermine the country's hard-earned traditions of gender equality. “During the past several years, we've had several Muslim women come and swim,” says Stockholm resident Carolina Johansson, who has gone to women's-only sessions at a local swimming pool for the past 20 years.

“But gender-separated swimming doesn't feel like a positive development.”The separate swimming hours have cause an enormous debate in Sweden, with many calling the move regressive and a ghettoization of women, while others laud it as a sensible inclusion of the country's increasingly diverse population.

“Women's swimming hours are very good because there are no private swimming pools for women,” she says.

“Without separate pools or swimming hours, women would go to the pool with their husbands and kids and just sit because they don't feel comfortable swimming in front of men.”Gender-separated swimming hours are good for husbands, too, Ms.

And that is raising a much larger issue for Sweden.

Should the native population adjust to immigrant groups' different lifestyles by accommodating women-only swimming and the like, thus providing access to Muslim newcomers who would otherwise not feel comfortable in gender-equal conditions?

This month Sweden's democracy minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, told Swedish TV that gender-segregated swimming hours – as the system is often referred to – are problematic and called mixed-gender swimming “a victory after many years and generations of gender-equality struggle.”In Malmö, Iva Parizkova Ryggeståhl and her fellow members of the local International Women's Association have spent a great deal of time talking about gender-separated swimming.

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