Music festivals need to be more female-friendly. Here's why...

Music festivals have undergone massive shifts over the past few decades, but there is still one area where they're severely lacking: female-friendliness. And that includes being pregnancy-friendly... 

Over the course of the last 20 years, the landscape of the music festival has changed massively. From being released into a large open space with a few burger stalls and Ocean Colour Scene, to boutique festivals with artisanal pies and middling rock; to now being replaced by Stormzy, Miley Cyrus and Robyn playing headline slots, the structure has shifted from being something for the lads into something for everyone. 

Across Europe, music festivals began duplicating at a rapid speed from 2005 onwards. Where they were once seen as something for the young and the feckless, the shift in demand means that festivals exist for just as much for the not so young and equally feckless too. As festivals progress with the times, an ethos of respect and coexistence proves necessary.

The tent-burning days are long behind us, but there’s still so much more that we can work on.


The gender balance pledge 

Last year, over 100 festivals, including Ireland Music Week (formerly Hard Working Class Heroes),  signed a pledge to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in the acts that they book by 2020. This summer saw Barcelona’s Primavera Festival enforce that in June, making it the first major festival to do so. In what is the current créme de la créme of pop, hip-hop, R&B and soul, Erykah Badu, Solange, Cardi B, Charli XCX, Janelle Monáe, Robyn, Christine and the Queens, Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rosalía, Róisín Murphy and many, many other female-fronted acts filled the bill, moving away from what would be considered a “traditional” festival line up and reflecting modern society instead.

"Life doesn’t end as soon as you hit 30 or 70 and your appetite for fun doesn’t disappear once you start a family."

In the weeks leading up to the festival, male friends asked me about the women on the bill and who should they see. This means that the average Primavera regular was being introduced to new artists that they wouldn’t usually listen to. That is the point of festivals really — to bring home a reshaped perspective on live music.

Not only that, but reports from the ground mentioned that the audience changed too. A reviewer from The Interns wrote: “While the crowd was excellent, you can’t help but think that the festival wouldn’t have been able to achieve that atmosphere if the acts weren’t also a perfect representation of the diversity they were promoting”.

The idea of moving festivals forward so that anyone in any stage of their life feels welcome is essential to creating an inclusive environment. Life doesn’t end as soon as you hit 30 or 70 and your appetite for fun doesn’t disappear once you start a family.

Pregnancy-friendly festivals


Running with this ideology is Lisbon’s NOS Alive (July 11th - 13th) which announced that they are providing the world's first safe space for pregnant festival goers. A very simple change in their set up, pregnant people can book a space on a viewing platform at no cost to watch all of the action from the main stage. If at any stage they need to take a break from the crowds, this seated area comes with blankets and cushions, its own toilets and dedicated on-the-spot healthcare from a team of nurses, cutting back on any “what ifs” that might prevent them from buying a ticket.

The introduction of this safe space means that any parents-to-be don’t have to cut back on their social life or worry about the crush of the crowd. “Having children and becoming a mum is a magical thing on one level and on another, part of everyday life. Why should you compromise your lifestyle in any way when you're pregnant in this day and age?” says NOS Alive's senior booker and CEO Álvaro Covões.  

"Life doesn’t end as soon as you hit 30 or 70 and your appetite for fun doesn’t disappear once you start a family."

Similarly, Waterford’s All Together Now (August 2nd - 4th) has introduced a comfortable space for people to breastfeed within their dedicated kid's area Kids Together. While few Irish festivals have yet to take bounding inclusive leaps in the same way that Primavera and NOS Alive, children’s and family entertainment spaces at the likes of Body & Soul and Electric Picnic have been exemplary over the last 10 and 15 years but newbie All Together Now is taking their lead and surpassing it.   

All Together Now

“At All Together Now, one of our primary focuses is to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all our festival goers”, says Diane Vesey, the festival’s Event Controller.

“It's a space for families to enjoy lots of great activities with their little ones in a safe, fun environment. We take extra care to ensure the safety of the kids, with wristbands, a check-in system and a number of other controls that we put in place.” In addition to that, for its second year, the festival has a mixed balance of male and female security staff so that festival goers can feel comfortable if and when they need assistance.

Things have improved so much in Ireland for festival lovers in terms of decent camping spots, great food, alternative entertainment and a great balance between Irish and international acts. But in terms of inclusivity — between striking a gender balance onstage and offstage and having the audience truly reflect the country we live in — we have a long way to go. Like the organisers of Primavera said, "it is possible, and we've done it".


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