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HAIM at Glastonbury festival

45 music festivals pledge to achieve 50/50 gender balance by 2022

But is it enough?

When London’s Wireless Festival announced its lineup this year, people were quick to point out that just three non-male acts made the bill. The statistic was disheartening, but not exactly surprising. In recent years major festivals have seen the excitement around their initial lineup announcements turn to disappointment as fans circulate Photoshopped posters with the men removed, leaving a paltry five or six female or female-fronted acts on the bill.

Today, 45 international music festivals announced that they’d signed up to a new programme that hopes to end this gender inequality in the festival landscape. The Keychange initiative, spearheaded by the PRS foundation, pledges to achieve a full 50/50 gender balance across their lineups by 2020. The full list can be found here, but some of the major festivals to sign up include The Great Escape (UK), MUTEK (Canada), Pop-Kultur (Germany), and Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival (France).

“We support diverse talent across every programme we run at PRS Foundation,” Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS, says in a statement. “40% of our grantees in 2017 were from a BAME background and 53% featured female artists… The Keychange network of female artists and industry professionals and the festival partners’ idea of establishing a collective pledge will significantly accelerate change. I hope that this will be the start of a more balanced industry which will result in benefits for everyone.”

It’s a positive step, but is it enough? The 2022 metric is ambitious, but seems almost too little too late – while festivals often programme their lineups far ahead of time, there are plenty of women artists currently working who are being shortchanged by promoters and organisers. Similarly, the lack of major festivals participating feels like a shame – it’s undoubtedly a good thing that these festivals lead by example and hopefully create a climate that forces other, larger festivals to follow suit, but it’s a shame that events like Glastonbury haven’t also committed to this at this stage.

It’s also important to see the music industry as a set of workers, and to appreciate that debates over representation don’t go far enough to address the real inequalities that people face. Performers alone don’t make up festivals or the industry – lineups should be scrutinised, but so should things like the hiring policies of record labels and the pay disparities between executives and other staff.

According to BBC News analysis, eight out of 10 headline slots in UK festivals were occupied by all-male acts, but an arguably more important figure is that a quarter of those slots were taken up by the same 20 acts. If you’ve ever felt frustrated that so many international festivals have similar lineups, it’s important to see equality (not just in gender but also ethnicity and sexuality) as a necessary move. Too many festivals programme their lineups using a small group of booking agencies and management companies, which inevitably favours a small amount of tried-and-tested acts, and they’re usually male.

It’s a problem not just for representation but also for finding musically adventurous lineups, and it’s the music fan that suffers for this. Shirley Manson, the frontwoman of Garbage and an ambassador for Keychange, perhaps puts this best. “I remain utterly outraged by the depressing statistics surrounding female representation in every aspect of the global music business,” she said in a statement today. “We absolutely and urgently must put it to rights. We are doing a great disservice, not only to women of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, but to all genders, culture, and society in general by allowing the status quo to continue.”