Music

Primavera Sound tells MPs how UK festivals can fight misogyny and sexual harassment

Put more women in music line-ups and in your workforce if you want to keep female guests safe at festivals, a major European festival has told British MPs.

Just one in ten headliners were female at the UK’s top music festivals last year. Image: Joey Thompson / Unsplash

With the UK’s festival season kicking off in a matter of weeks, concerns are turning to how to keep women safe at the crowded, alcohol-fuelled events, where research has shown one in three women who attend a music festival has been sexually assaulted or harassed.

But one European festival is leading the way in making sure their event is welcoming to women, LGBTQ+ people and other marginalised groups, and they’ve shared their wisdom with the UK parliament. 

Marta Pallarès Olivares, head of international press and PR at the Barcelona-based festival, recommended that the British music festival industry make sure it has diverse staff members in terms of race, gender and sexuality, in order to make all audience members feel safe at their events.

“If you have a lot of women in your company, people from diverse backgrounds, it’s probable that [they] have felt unsafe, have felt scared going home afterwards or got lost between stages, so then when [they] are able to work on the other side of the business, [they think about that] and create the kind of festival they want to attend,” she told parliament’s women and equalities committee.

The committee is currently examining misogyny in the UK music industry to figure out what steps can be taken to protect audience members and festival goers from harassment and improve the treatment of women working at events.

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There have been some positive steps, with over 100 UK music festivals signing the Safer Space at Festivals pledge in 2022, committing to tackling sexual violence at their events.

However, research commissioned by Durham University found that one in three women who attend a music festival has been raped, groomed, rubbed up against, catcalled or leered at.

“Crowded stage areas can provide a cloak of anonymity for perpetrators who harass, grope or assault,” said Dr Hannah Bows who worked on the research. “Perpetrators can disappear into crowds quickly and are difficult to locate by security or other staff.”

Delphi Mangan, who works as a freelance sound technician at music events, described the music industry as dominated by “cis, white, heterosexual men” who “hire in kind and pick their friends for teams”.

She said that, in her experience, “there is no support and nowhere to report abuse”.

In written evidence submitted to the committee’s inquiry, Mangan described how she was hired to work at a venue where she had previously repeatedly been harassed by one of their full-time staff members who followed her around the building making “deeply inappropriate comments about her appearance” and sexual remarks. 

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Despite reporting this to management, he continued to be employed by the company and was placed on the same shift as her. After again complaining to the venue, she ceased to receive offers of work from them.

“That is what happens when you report harassment as a freelancer more often than not, you just don’t get hired again and the culture never changes. You have nowhere to go, no-one to report to and in the end, no work.”

The BBC found that last year only one in ten headliners were female at the UK’s top music festivals

After receiving “hell on earth” levels of backlash after announcing a gender-balanced line-up of artists in 2019, Olivares told British MPs that Primavera Sound organisers believe the decision led to more LGBT people and women choosing to work at and attend the event, making it safer as a result. 

“If we don’t change the ways that we used to do things, at some point our audiences are going to stay at home,” she said. “If we only try to cater to the audience who used to buy tickets, at some point they won’t be there anymore.”

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