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Swedish female-only festival ruled to have broken discrimination laws

By | Published on Wednesday 19 December 2018

Statement Festival

A Swedish festival that billed itself as “the world’s first major music festival free from cis men” has been ruled discriminatory by a government regulator in the country. The new festival was set up in response to reports of sexual assault and harassment at various music events, particularly Sweden’s BrĂ¥valla festival.

Named Statement Festival, the event was positioned as being open to anyone but cisgender men, ie men who retain the gender they were assigned at birth. It went ahead in August with an all-female line-up of music and comedy performers. Ahead of that first edition, organisers said: “We simply want women, non-binaries and transgender to go to a festival and feel safe at the same time – and now this summer it will happen!”

Complaints were seemingly made to the effect that the festival was discriminatory, which prompted the Swedish government’s Equality Ombudsman to launch an investigation. And it has now made a ruling.

Actually, although marketed as an event free from cis men, no rules to that effect were enforced at entry points, so there wasn’t actually any discrimination at the festival itself. However, the regulator ruled that pre-event statements that “clearly discouraged” a specific group from attending the festival did breach the law.

A spokesperson for the Equality Ombudsman stressed that the ruling was not criticising the ultimate motivation of the festival, ie to tackle the serious problem of sexual abuse at music events. “[The Equality Ombudsman] obviously believes that all visitors to the festivals must be able to feel safe”, it said. However, it went on, its specific task is to ensure compliance with Sweden’s Discrimination Act, and to that end it is “important that the measures taken to increase security do not violate the prohibition of discrimination”.

In response, festival organisers said: “We think it is sad that 5000 women, non-binary and transgender people experiencing a life-changing festival caused a few cis men to go through the roof. The success of the Statement Festival shows that we are needed and the decision does not change that fact. Otherwise, we have no comment – we are busy changing the world”.

Watch a short film of footage from Statement here: