Illusions of Inclusion

“Hard” versus “Soft” Gender Balance in Music Festival Lineups


  • James Nissen The University of Manchester



Music festivals, Gender, Festival management, world music


In recent years, the issue of gender inequality in music festival lineups has become a major topic of discussion in the industry. In response, some festival organizers have implemented quotas or other regulative policies in an attempt to produce gender balanced lineups. However, by distinguishing between “hard” and “soft” gender balance, I argue that organizers often employ a “soft” definition which masks prevailing gender disparities and I propose that a “hard” approach which encompasses a more fine-grained analysis of the gender dynamics of festival programming should instead be adopted. Using the WOMAD Festival as a case study, I demonstrate the benefits of a “hard” approach for scrutinizing the gender composition of festival lineups and interrogating the claims of progress made by organizers. I also discuss WOMAD’s strategies for fostering greater gender balance, which may offer other festival organizers some valuable starting points for addressing gender inequalities in their own lineups.

Author Biography

  • James Nissen, The University of Manchester

    James Nissen holds a PhD from the University of Manchester and his research focuses on music festivals, the world music industry, music education, and gender studies. He is a founding and executive member of the ICTM Study Group on Music, Education and Social Inclusion and has collaborated with arts and media organizations including the BBC, Band on the Wall, Music Action International and Olympias Music Foundation.


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How to Cite

Nissen, J. (2024). Illusions of Inclusion: “Hard” versus “Soft” Gender Balance in Music Festival Lineups. Journal of World Popular Music, 10(2), 143–162.