International Women's Day: Girls Rock London

Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day, the perfect opportunity to reflect on progress towards gender equality in the music industry. There are some encouraging signs that progress is speeding up - but we’ve still got a long way to go.

When nine out of ten bands on a festival lineup are all-male acts, it can be very difficult for a woman or girl to imagine herself up on that stage one day. This programming doesn’t just hurt the acts that we exclude – it hurts all of us by denying us the musical expression and talent of half the population.

We’re seeing some progress – a new PRS Foundation initiative to tackle gender imbalance in festival lineups is now supported by over 45 festivals, whilst Bestival announced a lineup heavy with female headliners (though still nowhere near 50%). At the same time, other festivals are still stuck in the past, with many owners apparently unwilling to admit that the festival industry can do anything about its gender problem.

It is in this context that Girls Rock London is trying to make a difference from the ground up.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Our unofficial slogan is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so we work to increase the number and visibility of girls and women making music in London. At our rock camps participants learn the basics of an instrument, form a band, write a song and perform at a live gig - in just a few days. We create a safe space where girls and women can take creative risks, make mistakes and form supportive networks with other musicians to support them in their ongoing musical journey.

But the lack of women onstage isn’t just about role models. Our work with young women is focused on improving confidence and self-esteem. Girls in this country are facing a mental health crisis: twice as many 14 and 15 year old girls as boys are unhappy with their appearance, and there has been a 68% rise in hospital admissions because of self-harm among girls under 17 in past decade.

Adult women tell us that they thought they had missed their chance, or that they had always wanted to play but never thought they could do anything other than be in the audience watching their male friends and partners on stage.

Giving girls and women the confidence to perform is key to what we do. We know that women are more likely to write music on their own, but not share it with the world. Increasing the number of women onstage is a political act – it changes who we hear from and what we hear about. Getting more women on stages means the music we hear becomes more representative of a larger world view, inspiring activism in turn.

Music can change the world

At Girls Rock London we believe that music has the power to inspire personal, social and political change - and this is why it matters so much that young and adult women have equal access to music-making. They too should have the chance to experience these benefits and make this change.

We’re not alone in the work we are doing. While we’re a long way from equal opportunities for women in music, awareness is greater than ever. Along with initiatives from organisations like Festival Republic, excellent community promoters like Loud Women and Who Run the World are working their socks off to give performing opportunities to female-identified bands in the capital. Vanessa Reed’s leadership of the PRS and Jude Kelly’s directorship of the Southbank Centre have had a huge influence on the public debate about gender and music, and at the grassroots there is a healthy and growing scene of all-women bands challenging the dominance of all-male acts in London and beyond.

This community that we are part of, and the leadership of innovators, gives us the motivation to continue our work, and hope that things can improve. We are the kind of organisation that hopes to become obsolete - our dream is that one day Girls Rock London will no longer be needed, because all girls and women will have an equal chance to express themselves through music and take up space on stage. In the meantime, it is a privilege to be part of the movement creating that change.

To find out more about how you can get involved with this movement, head to our website at www.girlsrocklondon.com

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