/Swedish “man-free” festival split between evolution and discrimination

Swedish “man-free” festival split between evolution and discrimination

Statement festival, the world first “man-free” festival, was held in Gothenburg, Sweden, on August 31st and September 1st. While standing as a response to sexual harassment, it is also facing accusations of discriminations.
A sea of heart shaped hands during a DJ set at the Statement Festival (Photo courtesy of Hilma Lundvall)

 

“I realize that this is what it feels like to be safe.” Hilma Lundvall, a 25-year-old journalism student describes her “great experience” at the Statement festival with a thankful tone: “No one was bumping into me, being rude, saying stuffs or looking at me in a strange way. I could close my eyes for a whole song without fearing something bad would happen to me. I felt a sense of safety that I had never felt before in public spaces.”

From the audience to the stage, to the organizers and journalists, the Statement festival was aimed at woman, transgender, and non-binary people. More than 5000 people took part in the event in Gothenburg last month.

The Swedish equality Ombudsman is currently leading an investigation to see if the festival was discriminatory or not. Some critics indeed argued that the concept of the festival was a discrimination towards cis-men (those whose masculine identity matches with the sex they were assigned at birth).

The result of the investigation will be known in a couple of weeks, Ombudsman spokesman Clas Lundstedt said. “It is normal that such an initiative raises concerns,” he added. Due to Swedish law prohibiting all kind of discrimination, cis-men were actually not forbidden in the festival – a few men came to the event. Nevertheless, it was strongly dedicated to woman, transgender and non-binary people. 

Hilma Lundvall has her own opinion on the matter: “I wouldn’t say it is discriminatory. Some men felt discriminated, but it is just one festival. There are actually plenty of other festivals and concerts where men can go to. They don’t have to be in that precise event.”

By offering an experience just for females, the Statement festival allowed a space for women of all ages to be comfortable and to feel free (Photo courtesy of Hilma Lundvall)

 

The idea of the festival was launched by Emma Knyckare, a Swedish comedian and radio presenter. During summer 2017, multiple cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence were reported at Swedish music festivals. Seeing that, Knyckare wrote on her Twitter account: “What do you think about us putting together a very cool festival where only non-men are welcome and that we host until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?”

Within a few hours, her idea went viral and sparked positive reactions from women tired of sexual harassment in public events. A crowd-funding initiative launched three months later gathered more than 500 000 Swedish crowns (around € 48,000) to organize the festival.

On their website, the organizers state that the festival was “launched as a response to the countless abuse of women who had taken place at music festivals.” It is also aimed as “a statement against all the sexual assaults in our society”. Bravalla festival, Swedish largest music festival, was cancelled in 2018, after five reported cases of rapes and twelve reported cases of sexual molestation during its 2017 edition. 

For the moment, it is not known if the Statement festival will be held again next summer. “If it is the case, I would definitely go,” Hilma Lundvall says. “And I think it would be good for every woman to go and experience this feeling of safety. This is what we deserve in society.”