Words by:
As told to: Annie Parker

Inspired by FORWARDS Festival, we’re hearing from thinkers and doers pushing music festivals forward. Here, AV artist and creative technologist pictures the festival experiences of tomorrow.

FORWARDS is a new international music festival taking place in Bristol 3-4 September 2022. It aims to kickstart a new breed of inner city festival by committing to positive change with social initiatives at its core and forward-thinking conversations, side by side with an epic music line up. Find out more here.

Here, Amber Probyn, co-founder of women’s urinal manufacturer Peequal unpacks practical changes which can make festivals safer and more enjoyable for women.

If you’ve ever been to a festival, you will have one way or another encountered a dedicated ‘safe space’. That might be a medical tent or, as is increasingly more likely, areas hosted by specialist organisations like UN Women who also offer advice and educational resources on personal wellbeing. We’re all more or less familiar with these kinds of institutional practices, and probably will have once been their beneficiaries. But whilst the effort on behalf of festival organisers to prioritise the existence of ‘safe spaces’ remains invaluable, more could be done to make the festival site itself a safer space.

It’s not difficult to imagine some of the ways that our safety is compromised by a festival environment. There’s a sense of anonymity that comes with being part of a large crowd, and with that lack of accountability often comes behaviour that wouldn’t be performed elsewhere. Not only do drugs and alcohol increase the likelihood of these behaviours, they also weaken our ability to stay alert to them, making the risk involved in straying from your group of friends even greater.

Generally speaking, festival sites are not constructed with women’s safety or time in mind. Take the toilets as an example: often arranged in ‘U’ shape, with one entrance, one exit and dim lighting, therefore creating a dark, closed space that women will often enter into alone. What’s more, our research found that on average 10 male urinals exist for every ladies’ toilet in the UK, meaning that women spend 34 times longer queuing than men, subject to this risk. These discoveries, together with our own personal frustrations are what drove us to establish the UK’s first free-standing women’s urinal. Enter the stage: Peequal!

Courtesy of Amber Probyn

Beginning in 2019 as a joint academic research project between myself and co-founder, Hazel McShane, we recently managed to raise £250K in investment, making 2022 our first official trading year. Allow me to walk you through the basics, beginning by establishing that it is *not a Shewee*. Leave your funnel-shaped ideas at the door!

The Peequal is a free-standing structure (see below). To use it, you simply step up into your own private ‘wedge’ where you’ll be partly-visible only when standing upright; stand over the pedestal, assuming a squat position (we’ve done plenty of research into squat science and can assure you the ergonomics guarantee a stable, splash-free experience); and pee away! For anyone who’s ever done a wild wee, it will be a pretty familiar ritual.

Not only is the Peequal designed to be six times quicker to use than portable toilets, it also helps protect the environment. The occasional nip behind a bush whilst out on a countryside walk poses no grave threats to the ecosystem, but once you multiply that by thousands and add synthetic drugs into the equation, the wild weeing norm causes pollution of waterways and ultimately the loss of life.

So far, we’ve piloted the equipment at festivals like Shambala and Valley Fest and following that success, have plans to rent it to 10 more this summer, including Glastonbury. The response has been incredible. We’ve received feedback saying that it’s completely revolutionised users’ festival experience; some women showing most relief at being able to enjoy a worry-free pint; and others saying it’s literally saved them the experience of physical pain.

Courtesy of Amber Probyn

In fact, the most common question we get asked is not related to optimum squatting heights or how best to avoid unwelcome exposures, but ‘Why hasn’t a female urinal hasn’t existed sooner?’. The answer is simple: female urination remains a big taboo. The hyper-sexualisation of women and the totally unsexy idea of us containing – god forbid – biological liquids (trust me, there’s plenty more ‘pee’ synonyms where that one came from) has meant that, up until now, society hasn’t been ready to invest in femtech, or even strike up a conversation about it. The data gap between sexes is huge.

So, whilst remedial initiatives like the introduction of wellbeing monitors work well to police these behaviours, we’re looking at changes within festival infrastructures proper to prevent them from happening in the first place, making festivals safer and more enjoyable for women.

If there’s anyone out there who believes in our mission (less wild wees and more wild times), you can join us as a volunteer this Summer. Sign up via our website to say yes to PEEQUALITY!

Much like Peequal, FORWARDS is future focused, looking to challenge what inner city festivals can be today with its debut in September exploring how they can be a positive force for change.

Courtesy of Amber Probyn