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Letters / A new council that looks to the future

UP Helly Aa for Aa Equality Group would like to welcome the successful new councillors to Shetland Islands Council. We hope that one of their main aims will be to protect current and future generations of our children from discrimination, which as we all understand, can have far reaching effects.

What Baroness Kennedy in a recent report to the Scottish Government described as a ‘patriarchal ecosystem’ has been allowed to flourish in some aspects of life in Shetland. Our councillors, as our elected politicians, are elected to work for the people in their wards and the people of Shetland, and to take the lead in our community.

The approved guidebook for councillors, which hopefully our councillors will have read, states that “councillors not only have a legal duty to comply with the law but also to foster and encourage the development of inclusive communities”.

It also states that “inclusion is key to a thriving community; and a healthy community promotes social inclusion”. Councils have an important role to play in helping to create socially inclusive communities, not just in their own practices and policies but also in the example they set to other organisations and within the community.

Our request to the new councillors is to review the council’s support for the Up Helly Aa (UHA) festival in Lerwick.

Should the council continue to allow use of its facilities, allow its convenor to host a civic reception, and grant a public holiday to what is described by its organisers as a community event?

This is a community event which discriminates against 50 per cent of our community. A community event where only men and boys are allowed in its procession and squads, and where only men and boys take part in making its torches and the galley.

It is now 100 days since the previous convenor asked members of the UHA committee to speak with our equality group. An organisation that has not engaged with a request from the convenor of the council, expects that the new convenor and our council will agree to future civic receptions and support for UHA and its jarl squads? The UHA committee’s silence is deafening.

To our community: we encourage members of Shetland’s community who want an end to this discrimination to contact your councillors, to request that the council review their support of UHA.

To the new councillors we say: It may not be your responsibility or place to demand that Up Helly Aa in Lerwick and Junior Up Helly Aa (JUHA) end their discrimination.

However, if the Up Helly Aa and the Junior Up Helly Aa committees want the council’s ongoing support as a community event then the council and its councillors must inform them that it has to be an event for all the community and they must end their discriminative practices.

If the council and its councillors do this before the end of the summer, then there is sufficient time for the committees to arrange for JUHA to be inclusive and for squads to invite women in when they have spaces.

Lerwick Community Council do not support JUHA since JUHA has no equalities statement. No public body should support a group that not only discriminates, but also deliberately advances harmful discrimination.

It is our councillors’ responsibility to ensure that the actions of the council and its councillors do not support a community event that openly discriminates. Discrimination in the name of tradition is just not morally acceptable. Time to look to the future.

Chris Horrix and Karrol Scott
On behalf of the
Up Helly Aa for Aa Equality Group
A group working on behalf of the community who wants change

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