The women claim they were denied admission into the psychology programme at Lund University in southern Sweden on account of their gender.
They argue that they were passed over in favour of men, who received priority treatment for admission in order to increase the number of men in the programme.
In addition to filing a lawsuit alleging illegal discrimination against the university, the 31 women have also reported the Equality Ombudsman for failing to carry out its responsibilities as the arbiter of discrimination claims in Sweden.
According to lawyers Gunnar Strömmer and Clarence Crafoord with the Stockholm-based Centre for Justice (Centrum för rättvisa), which has agreed to assist the women in the Lund case, the ombudsman refused the case because of a similar, ongoing case involving the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet – SLU).
SLU was found guilty of discrimination by the district court in Uppsala for having given preferential treatment to men seeking admission to the school’s veterinary programme.
But the ruling has been appealed by the state and is set for a new hearing later in the autumn.
According to Strömmer and Crafoord, the ombudsman “is undermining” discrimination protections for college applicants.
“Workers have unions to go in and help them pursue discrimination cases, but who is going to help young people who are discriminated against when they apply to colleges if the state’s own ombudsman against discrimination doesn’t do it,” they write in an opinion piece published on Wednesday in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.
The two conclude that, “because in reality DO thinks it’s good to choose students based on gender – having equal numbers of each gender is a more important goal than equal rights and opportunities regardless of gender”.
According to a study carried out by the Centre for Justice, 5,400 college applicants in Sweden were subject to gender discrimination in 2009, with women being negatively affected in 95 percent of the cases.