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Women cheer as Swedish man-free music festival opens

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Matilda Hagerman laughs with her friends as she queues at a man-free music festival, which kicked off in Sweden in protest against a wave of sexual assaults at festivals in recent years, reported Channel News Asia (Singapore).

"This festival was necessary because of everything that happened during festivals last year," says the 27-year-old student with long pink hair and purple lipstick as her friends nod in agreement.

Held in Sweden's second-largest city of Gothenburg, the two-day Statement Festival, forbids men but not transgender people. It was announced last year after police received four rape and 23 sexual assault reports at Sweden's largest Bravalla Festival, which was cancelled this year as a result.

"What do you think about us creating an awesome festival where only non-men are welcome until ALL men learn how to behave?" Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare, who founded the Statement Festival, tweeted at the time.

Located inside an industrial building in Gothenburg's harbour, only female bands are performing and neither male security guards nor journalists are allowed to enter.

Rebecka Ljung, spokeswoman for the festival, told AFP "thousands" of women were expected to attend the festival.

Under cloudy skies, the festival got started with women holding beers and smiling and walking harmoniously in groups.

With two main stages for the mainly Swedish women performers, there was plenty of space to rest outside on pink coloured seats at the centre of the site, turning the festival into a convivial place in contrast to traditional festivals.

"This place feels like a safe-zone where women can just get together and have fun and celebrate ... especially in light of the assaults that have happened at other festivals," said Julia Skonneby, a 34-year-old performer.

"It feels like a certain tension is gone ... we're here to make a statement together," Hanna Gustavsson, a 31-year-old designer, chimed in.

Statement, launched after raising more than 500,000 kronor (€47,000, US$54,000) through crowdfunding, defines a transgender person as "a person who does not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth".

This means transgender women born as men are allowed to attend.
Only men who identify with the sex they were born with, also called cis men, are banned.

DISCRIMINATORY?
The Scandinavian country is one of the most gender equal countries in the world.

After receiving several complaints, the Equality Ombudsman (DO), a government agency that promotes equal rights and handles discrimination complaints, has asked the festival to specify what it means by "cis men".

"We want to examine whether the festival is compatible with discrimination laws," the agency's spokesman Clas Lundstedt told AFP, adding it would take a couple of weeks to reach a conclusion.

Festival-goer Gustavsson said she thought it was fair to bar men.
"I don't believe in complete separatism but I think it's very important to have this festival right now."

According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, 4.1 per cent of women reported that they had been the victim of a sexual crime compared to 0.6 per cent of men in Sweden.

Knyckare told AFP that the MeToo wave exposing sexual assault unveiled "serious problems" in Sweden, one of the most gender equal nations in the world, at not only festivals but several institutions.

"It seems like men have woken up to how huge the problem with sexual violence is," she told AFP.

***

Men are strictly banned at Femapalooza, a comedy show for Indian women where the punch lines range from breasts and bras to equal pay and censorship, reported Taipei Times (Taiwan).

Men were not allowed to attend, perform, or even check tickets at the most recent show at a New Delhi club.

For Femapalooza founder Jeeya Sethi, humor just for women is a way to make progress in deeply patriarchal India, where rape and gender bias are hot-button issues and women are widely expected to adhere to conservative stereotypes.

“Men only talk about men, [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi and masturbation, or they make sexist jokes,” stand-up comedian Sethi said.

Femapalooza has organized more than 35 shows in several cities over the past three years, providing what she called a safe and friendly environment for female comedians.

“Stand-up is all about being unabashed. When there are women around, you can say anything at all and not be judged,” Sethi said.

Rights activists have campaigned for years for greater access to public and performing spaces for women in India — and their safety, given the record of violence against women in the vast South Asian nation.

Some have emerged over the past few years, with similar comedy events held in Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Women-only shows such as “Leddis Night” by online magazine Ladies Finger and “Disgust Me” by stand-up comic Sumukhi Suresh have been widely acclaimed.

At Femapalooza’s New Delhi show, 13 comedians, aged between 17 and 37, tried out their jokes on an audience of about 30 women in an intimate, dimly-lit room. Some appeared nervous, but the crowd reveled in every woman-friendly gag.

Priya Elias vented her frustration with thongs.

“Women don’t enjoy wearing thongs... I am pretty sure a man invented them,” the former lawyer said jokingly.

She told reporters that her content is received much more warmly by all-women audiences.

“The energy in the room is different,” Elias said. “Women are always told they are not funny and that is not true at all.”

First-time performer Naomi Barton said that she was more comfortable sharing her jokes with a women-only crowd, with no pressure to entertain men.

“When I talk about PMS [premenstrual syndrome] and how it affects my mental health, landing me in funny situations, a woman will get it,” said Barton, a digital publisher with a major firm.

As in many countries, public discussion of menstruation and sexuality is replete with euphemisms.

At the New Delhi show, Sethi asked teenagers if they understood her joke about “the bedroom toy.”

As the teenagers blushed and smiled, she introduced the surprise act of the evening: Aditi Mittal, one of the handful of women to have made an impression in India’s male-dominated comedy scene.

Mittal has a special affection for women-only shows.

“Many men think women are doing stand-up comedy because they are so desperate for attention... Some even say: ‘Don’t you get enough attention from your boobs,’” said Mittal, the first Indian woman to get her own special on Netflix.

Comedy in India can be a boys’ club, said leading male stand-up comedian Rohan Joshi, a member of the popular All India Bakchod sketch group.

“We live in a culture where for years, women’s opinion has never been valued. This is at the heart of comedy,” Joshi said.

Platforms such as Femapalooza have helped bring more women onto the comedy circuit, but there have been objections about its format.

Male comedians have complained about the women-only events, even calling them sexist, Sethi said.

In response, her company, Comedy Ladder, organized an event in which men and women performed.

The show introduced men as male comedians on stage and women simply as comics, to show “how weird it sounds,” Sethi said.

Femapalooza’s audience has grown as word has spread. However, it does not always get a five-star rating.

“It was a novel concept, but only a few interesting performances... There were many first-timers,” said Deepshikha Singh, a communications professional in the New Delhi audience.

As the evening drew to a close, fathers and husbands lined up outside the club to drive members of the audience back home, partly out of concerns for their safety — a stark reminder that for many women in India, life is often no laughing matter.

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