BUENOS AIRES — Argentina will more than double the participation of women artists in musical events, a move that will help new talent emerge, but which could also make it harder for some festival programmers to piece together lineups.
Beginning early next year, women artists must make up at least 30% of the lineup in events with three or more acts, according to a law Argentina’s Congress voted on Nov. 23. That’s up from the 13.2% participation in the first half of 2017, according to a study published by Ruidosa, a festival platform for women artists in Latin America.
While the gender gap in music should naturally narrow with time, “sometimes you have to force it to happen,” says Diego Boris, president of Argentina’s National Music Institute, a government agency that will monitor festivals to make sure they comply.
Argentina’s quota law is thought to be the first of its kind in the world, says Boris. It comes at a time when festivals worldwide are facing criticism for large gender gaps from artists like Annie Mac, Dua Lipa and Lily Allen, as well as from movements including Book More Women. The Keychange initiative, led by the London-based music talent developer PRS Foundation, is pushing for a gender balance by 2022.
In Latin America, the female participation in the first half of 2017 averaged 20% in the main Latin American festivals in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the United States, according to the Ruidosa study. That means Argentina had the worst showing.
The results of the study caught the attention of Celsa Mel Gowland, an Argentine pop singer who had been investigating how to boost the representation of women when she was vice president of the National Music Institute from 2014 to 2018. She soon met Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti, who drafted the bill for the quota, which gained the support of 700 female musicians.
Boris says he expects the law to take effect by February. He compares it to one that has increased the number of women legislators in Argentina to nearly half of the total, from only a minor percentage in the late 1980s.
In Argentina, there are 55,000 bands and soloists, of which 20% are women, according to Boris. With the quota law, he hopes that as more women take the stage, more girls will start playing instruments or singing, which will help to grow the music scene in a more equitable way.
Boris says he doesn’t expect it to be hard to transition to meeting the quota, since the local music industry has put its support behind the initiative. The law also provides exceptions for genres with few female artists, and allows event organizers to count a band that has at least 30% women as a female act.
Eric Davies, founder and general producer of La Nueva Generación, a festival in the central city of Córdoba, says some events have already increased female representation as a new crop of women have gained followings. They include pop singers Lali Espósito and Tini Stoessel, and the young trap artist Nicki Nicole.
“There is an impact,” Davies says of the quota. “But it is not going to be difficult to comply with.”
The latest edition of his festival had a 38% female participation rate, he says, including Lara91k, Malena Villa and Miss Bolivia.
Even so, Davies says the quota will push programmers to work harder and be more creative, something that will be positive for the music industry because “a lot of new talent is going to be discovered.”
Boris agrees. “The boom already exists,” he says. “It’s just not visible yet.”
It’s starting to become so. Marilina Bertoldi, a rock musician, won the Gardel de Oro, Argentina’s top music award, for best album this year, the second time that a woman has won in the category.
Francisca Valenzuela, an American-born Chilean singer who founded Ruidosa and was consulted about the quota during the drafting of the Argentine bill, says the law raises awareness about the challenges women face to get noticed in a male-dominated industry.
“I’ve had many promoters tell me that they’d never noticed that there weren’t any women on the festival bill, and now they do,” she says. “These laws have that positive effect that they put these problems into discussion for everybody to see, talk about, and to change their behavior, especially people who are in positions of power or who can generate opportunities.”
José Luis Cameron, CEO of Gonna Go Producciones, a production company that organizes 270 shows and four festivals a year in Argentina, says that while the law will help to expose more women artists, efforts must be made as well to include them in all areas of the business, including in programming.
“We have to go a lot deeper than just the quota to achieve equality,” he says.
María Paz Ferreyra, a singer who goes by the name Miss Bolivia, says she’s lucked out in having played almost all of the festivals in Argentina over the past decade. But too often it has been at marginal times and on secondary stages, with 80% of the main slots and stages going to men, she estimates.
That has been changing over the past two years, as producers and programmers have been taking steps in anticipation of the quota, and because of the social pressure for more female acts, she says.
“They were ashamed of still being a T-Rex [dinosaur] in a scene shouting for change,” Ferreyra says. With the quota, “many excellent and talented artists will become visible when they had been invisible or had no access because of a pathological and closed system where the same artists always played.”