Letters / Faster change for the greater good

I feel John Waters (There are other more important issues of inequality; SN, 16 January 2020) may be missing a trick that is worth taking a look at.

John raises year round domestic violence against women at the same time as a year round workplace discrimination issue and the annual issue of women and girls participating on equal terms in the Lerwick fire festivals.

I am not sure it is helpful to separately rank the “worrying”ness of these.

In a way these issues are each part of how women are regarded and treated in society as a whole. Different levels of status and/or involvement are afforded and denied where a woman is assaulted in her own home, blocked from promotion at work or banned from joining in on her community’s celebration on equal terms.

Individual experiences and perspectives will inevitably differ, but it is 2020 and there is still a bad gender power thing going on.


Unless anyone wants to argue women are less important than men and it is ok to treat them badly, women’s rights are surely the human rights we should all share. That is a position I am quite sure John holds too.

But I wonder what John makes of this: human rights are “interrelated, interdependent and indivisible”. See:


To me this suggests a woman’s right not to be discriminated against in the workplace is linked to, not separate from, how women are treated elsewhere, and so on. Domestic violence doesn’t take place within a social vacuum either. Damaging attitudes about the status of women can be, and are, reinforced in wider society.

Without getting too heavy I hope John will take the point that, as all of his examples are not great, it is perfectly ok for people to want to see improvements in them all.

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“Interrelated, interdependent and indivisible” suggests progress with one issue should assist progress elsewhere, but I’m not sure how much progress there will be behind closed doors if it isn’t also evident on the streets.

It’s like the right not to be beaten by your partner somehow interrelates to, interdepends on and is indivisible from your right to be equally regarded by your community as a whole.

Excluding women and girls from equal participation in UHA may reinforce harmful attitudes with various harmful outcomes.  I think this hard-to-give-voice-to fear is somewhere within of a lot of people’s concerns about what the Lerwick processions signal in particular.

I get why the junior thing had to be taken out of the school, but why continue to keep the girls out of it?  What is that saying?


Human rights are also said to be “inalienable”; somehow already present even when denied.

So Lerwick’s women and girls do actually have the inherent right to join the processions with torches, even if the right hasn’t been realised or achieved yet. Those are their streets too. It is their themed Fashingsdienstag pre-Cosplay team community celebration too, with accompanying rousing songs celebrating the rights of man, as humankind used to be known.

Some of this unwelcome news will surely be taught in all of Shetland’s “rights respecting” schools and will also be acceptable to, accepted by and acted upon by Shetland’s community planners… one day.  They do have statutory responsibilities after all.

Back to practicalities. Dorothy O’Brien suggests boycotts in her letter (‘Man up and support the women’; SN, 16 January 2020).

But boycotts aren’t necessarily noticed. However movement towards greater equality (less discrimination and possible harm reduction) can of course accelerate when kindred spirits take a stand.


Some stands have been taken. Shetland’s fire festivals are increasingly inclusive and more changes will surely follow. Overall though it shouldn’t be forgotten they are all remarkable events and Shetland has a great deal to be proud of in them.

So with a cheerful Happy New Year to Dorothy and John both, here’s hoping the people participating enjoy themselves and will also find opportunities to indicate they’d be happy to see faster change for the greater good.

Allowing women and girls to carry torches doesn’t change the fundamentals…  It shouldn’t be a burning issue.

Peter Hamilton

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