Swedish Ombudsman rules that the ‘man-free’ Statement Festival violated discrimination laws

May 2020

EQUALITY: Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) has ruled that describing an event as ‘man-free’ is discriminatory, dealing a blow to the ‘Statement Festival which was promoted as a music festival aimed at women in August earlier this year.

Statement Festival, which took place in Gothenburg this summer, was organised following multiple reports of sexual assaults at other Swedish festivals including the now discontinued Bravalla. Comedian Knyckare who instigated the festival said at its launch “It felt important when so many people wanted it” and “All men are not rapists, but almost all rapes are carried out by men. We want to create a free space, a cool festival where women can be without feeling worried. A festival is not the solution, but a reaction to the problem. The goal with the festival is that there shouldn’t need to be separatist events.  After questions were first raised about the festival’s definition as ‘man-free’, organizers confirmed they would also welcome trans men and non-binary people. The ruling, issued on Monday, confirmed that describing the festival as “man-free” amounted to “an infringement of discrimination law”.

Although the ruling noted that festival organizers did not enforce the “man-free” rule and that “no differentiation based on sex was made between visitors at entry”, the Ombudsman held that the statements the company issued publicly before the festival “discouraged a certain group from attending the event,” which ultimately amounted to a breach of a law banning gender-based discrimination and that “public statements which clearly discourage” a certain group from attending an event amounts to discrimination, and therefore the festival was in breach of the law prohibiting gender-based discrimination.

The DO noted that its decision should not be seen as “calling into question the serious problem of sexual assault” saying “Clearly, we believe that sexual abuse, especially at festivals, is a serious problem. So we are looking forward to trying to correct this” but adding “However, it shouldn’t happen in a way that violates the law, which their statements in the media and their [Statement] website do.”


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