Open letter to the Convenor of Shetland Island’s Council and the Committees of Lerwick Up Helly Aa (LUHA) and Junior Up Helly Aa (JUHA)
I am writing with concern for Shetland’s much loved festivals at a time of increasing awareness about the level of gender-based violence in our community. In Shetland, the level of recorded sexual crime is greater per head of our population than many other areas in Scotland. There is widening realisation that the current form of LUHA and JUHA are far from helpful, informing misogynistic and entitled attitudes some choose to act on.
Malcolm Bell, you privately see no justification for the blatant sexist discrimination that directly bars women and girls from participating. Publicly though, Convenor Bell, you wish the community to resolve this issue. It is plain that you would prefer it if questions about the council’s involvement were not asked. They will not go away.
The spotlight is now on the harm caused by the ongoing discrimination you all currently support. It is likely to stay there. Some voices have been ignored for far too long.
It is clear that action must rapidly be taken to make Lerwick Up Helly Aa and Junior Up Helly Aa more safe and inclusive. A referral to a Scottish statutory organisation might well force Shetland Islands Council to put conditions on the festival. This route could have unforeseen consequences. It may soon be thought necessary.
It is for such reasons I have written to our MP suggesting you meet together with him. There are perspectives on all this you would be well advised to consider, potentially with help from others.
No one is asking you to apologise for harms done in the past, but please spare yourselves the embarrassment of having to account for harms done in the future. You can prevent these by taking responsible action now.
You will be aware of how a young female English BBC presenter of Bangladeshi heritage was treated at the festival. Many are aware of far worse incidents than this. The harm done is not limited to any one night or gender. All told, individual members of our community suffer in various ways we would not wish on anyone, let alone future family members. Shetland’s reputation as an outward looking and welcoming community suffers too. Much of this is already known.
With a little courage, imagination and flexibility, you can all contribute to making Shetland more equal and safer place, whilst making a cherished community event richer and fit for the future.