After 27 Sexual Assault Reports, Swedish Women Kick Men Out Of Music Festival

Swedish feminists are setting up a men-free music festival to combat sexual violence. But is this the most effective approach?

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Jul 6 2017, 3:03pm

Photo by Lumina via Stocksy

Any woman who's ever attended a music festival knows sexual harassment is a common experience at such events—whether it's the unwelcome attention of someone in a neighboring tent, or being groped in a jostling crowd. Now, a group of Swedish feminists believe they have the answer: a no-men-allowed festival to eliminate male aggression once and for all.

The move to create a men-free festival came after Bråvalla—a major Swedish music festival—cancelled its 2018 edition after a spate of sexual assaults. Four women reported being raped to Östergötland police, and a further 23 sexual assault cases were filed, according to the AFP.

In a statement, the festival's organizers explained their decision. "Certain men … apparently cannot behave. It's a shame. We have therefore decided to cancel Bråvalla 2018."

The move has ignited a fierce debate around sexual assault in Sweden, with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven expressing his shock and dismay. "This is so disgusting. These are obnoxious acts by deplorable men," he said in televised comments. "This must stop."

Read more: The Teen Girls Calling Out Sexual Assault at Concerts

As she watched the situation unfold, comedian and radio presenter Emma Knyckare had a novel response. "What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome," she tweeted, "that we'll run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?"

After warm support for the idea, Knyckare—who was unavailable for comment—confirmed she'd be pressing ahead with her plans. "Okay, all set," she wrote on Instagram. "Next summer, Sweden's first male-free festival will see the light. I will gather a solid group of talented organisers and project managers who will form the festival organisation. Let's all talk again when it's time to come into the limelight. Thanks a lot for your interest and support, it's really incredible what joint efforts [can do]!"

Sexual assault at music festivals is a long-standing phenomenon, and one that's often gone unchallenged by organizers and police alike. Earlier this year, a coalition of 60 British festival organizers made a public statement pledging to do more to challenge sexual violence at their events. Despite these steps, the problem persists. But is banning men from music festivals the best move forward?

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"Though female-only spaces, events, and nights should always be welcomed as places where women can feel comfortable, have their needs specifically catered for, and obviously feel safe from objectification, harassment and even assault, segregation isn't really the answer," says Jen Calleja, spokesperson and co-coordinator of anti-harassment activists Good Night Out. Comparing the move to the introduction of women-only train carriages in cities like Tokyo, Calleja believes such measures fail to effectively tackle sexual violence at the root.

"It [a men-free festival] bypasses the initial problem," Calleja explains. "We need to target why this happens." Her solution? More education.

"Consent workshops should be introduced earlier and become mandatory in schools," Calleja says. As anti-harassment campaigners, Good Night Out train staff in bars and nightclubs to identify sexual harassment, respond appropriately, and ultimately prevent harassment from taking place. "We would love to train festivals to do the same," she says.

But she's under no illusion that change will come overnight. "What will ultimately end harassment and assault is when it becomes absolutely socially unacceptable."

"We need to target why this happens, and also make sure victims' distress and trauma isn't added to because of a poor response by organizers."