A woman-only music festival in Sweden has been found guilty of discrimination.
Though men were allowed to buy tickets to the event, it was made clear they weren’t welcome and many, including male members of the band’s crew, were restricted to a ‘man pen’ in a backstage area.
The ‘man-free’ event, named Statement Festival and held in Gothenburg in August, was organised by Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare after the country’s largest music event was cancelled the previous year following a string of sexual assault and rape complaints.
It was billed as “the world’s first major music festival for women, non-binary and transgender only”.
But Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) ruled that describing an event as “male-free” violated anti-discrimination laws and it was therefore illegal.
“It is important to point out what an infringement is. These are the statements made before the festival, what they wrote on their website,” Spokesperson Class Lundstedt said in a statement.
“Still, we haven’t been able to prove that someone would have been discriminated against in connection with the implementation or that someone would have been rejected.”
The DO found that nobody suffered damage from the festival’s restriction, and no penalties will be imposed on organisers.
Responding to the ruling organisers, Statement Festival penned a Facebook post: “Hi, Ombudsman! ‘We are aware of your decision and we think it’s sad that 5,000 women, non-binary [someone who identifies as neither male nor female] and transgender witnessed at a life-changing festival experience, a few cis men [someone whose gender identity matches their anatomical birth gender] get caught up.”
“The success of the Statement festival shows that is exactly what we need, and the DO’s verdict doesn’t change this fact. Otherwise, we have no comments. We are busy changing the world.”
The Statement festival was originally organised in response to a worrying number of sexual assault offences the previous year at Sweden’s biggest festival, Bravalla.
Organisers of Bravalla announced they were cancelling the 2018 event after police received four rape and 23 sexual assault reports at the festival in July last year.
In 2016, local media also reported that five women were allegedly raped at the four-day camping festival, which is attended by thousands of people each year.
“Together we are making a statement against sexual assaults by creating a safe space for women, non-binary and trans people that want to attend festivals and feel secure at the same time,” organisers of the Statement festival wrote at the time. “We don’t think this is too much to ask for!”
The DO claim they will try to address the problem of sexual assault at festivals but that man-free festivals isn’t the way forward.
“Clearly, we believe that sexual abuse, especially at festivals, is a serious problem. So we are looking forward to trying to correct this,” Lundstedt added. “However, it shouldn’t happen in a way that violates the law, which their statements in the media and their website do.”
It isn’t the first time a male-free space has been explored at a festival. In 2016, a group called ‘The Sisterhood’ held a women-only venue at Glastonbury.
“In a world that is still run by and designed to benefit mainly men,” the group explain, “oppression against women continues in various manifestations.” And they believe the way to fight against this sexism is to keep festivals a women-only zone.
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