Zurich is a city well known for its water bodies and water activities. There are places to swim in rivers, ponds, lakes and swimming pools all across the city. Easily accessible swimming places and socializing through swimming is an integral part of the culture of the city. However, as the city changes and people of different backgrounds inhabit the city, we have to rethink how accessible these spaces truly are. Historically, for political and cultural reasons, women who had to seek refuge and women with recent migrational backgrounds are often not considered. Statistically, these women often do not know how to swim or learn to swim much later in life. This can be a result of numerous reasons such as lack of access to safe swimming water, restricted access related to gender or class, traumatic experiences connected to water and much more. It is safe to say that not being able to swim in a city like Zurich can be a very isolating experience. MigrArt believes that creating ways to make swimming feel safer and more accessible to these women is an important part of integrating them into the water culture of the city. Through the WoC swimming course, MigrArt aims to create an environment where these women can learn to swim comfortably and without the burden of stigma amongst other women with the same experience.

Historically, women who have sought refuge have encountered numerous barriers to learning how to swim. The legacy of segregation and discrimination has restricted their access to public swimming facilities, limiting opportunities to develop swimming skills. Additionally, cultural stereotypes and societal norms perpetuated the idea that swimming was unnecessary for these women, further reducing access and interest in swimming education. Economic disparities compounded the issue as many families could not afford swimming lessons. Furthermore, the loss of traditional ways of accessing water contributed to their disconnect from aquatic activities. These cumulative historical factors have created a significant disparity in swimming abilities among women of color, affecting water safety and their participation in aquatic activities.  (create a statistic)

Having encountered many such women here in Zurich, the idea for WoC came about amongst numerous discussions around swimming. Friends and acquaintances of MigrArt expressed their interest in swimming but not feeling comfortable enough to do it because they felt stigmatized for not being able to swim. Some had experiences of being laughed at, sexualised, body shamed or being judged for what they chose to wear whilst trying to swim. This is why MigrArt felt that for the women the process of learning to swim required a specific environment and context. These deserve to learn how to swim without having to think about the barriers that already exist in day to day life. Learning to swim with other women* who have a similar experience and perspective gives them a sense of confidence and belonging that they may not feel in other swimming courses. 

The long term goal is to find a sustainable way for this course to exist beyond this pilot phase. Ideally in the future the course becomes self-sustaining institution known as one of the foremost safer spaces that foster inclusion and integration for women like these. Just from our initial interactions with our greater community, we realize how many people desire this space and service. Zurich needs this as much as these women do.

For more information Write maimuna@migrart.ch