Herald Sun February 11, 2011 12:00AM
RATEPAYERS could be stung up to $45,000 to install curtains at a public pool so Muslim women can have privacy during a female-only exercise classes.
The City of Monash has won an exemption from equal opportunity laws to run the sessions outside normal opening hours.
The council says the privacy screen is needed for "cultural reasons".
It follows moves by other councils to introduce women-only sessions for the Muslim community, such as Greater Dandenong asking a tribunal to approve a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for those attending a family event at a pool.
Special exercise classes for women will be held at the Clayton Community Centre every second Sunday evening after VCAT gave the green light this week.
Ross Buscemi, director of refugee charity group the New Hope Foundation, said his organisation had lobbied for the sessions on behalf of Muslim women, mostly from African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Mr Buscemi said the women had sought separate classes for cultural reasons and curtains or blinds were needed to protect their privacy because the centre had glass walls.
"At night, when the lights are on inside, everybody in there can be seen - it's a broader privacy issue, not just for the women," he said.
"It's stopping anybody perving on anybody in there really."
But Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis said it was disgraceful for councils to subsidise programs that segregated people.
"People come to Australia because it's a better place," he said.
"So then you should become Australian and abide by the customs of Australia, not change Australia to suit your customs from another country."
Monash councillors accepted that the women couldn't use the pool in normal hours for cultural and religious reasons.
They were told the special classes would address issues such as "obesity, social isolation and lack of physical strength".
Monash mayor Greg Male said the council sought funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission to help meet the $45,000 cost of curtains or blinds for the pool.
Similar women-only programs at public pools are run at Monash University, Dandenong Oasis recreation centre and the Don Tatnell Leisure Centre in Parkdale.