Was Up Helly Aa history made in Shetland ?
Was Up Helly Aa (Europe’s biggest fire festival) history made in Shetland today with four women from the ‘Shetland For Up Helly Aa Equality Group‘, attempting to officially register a squad at the Lerwick Galley shed for what appears to be the first time in the history of the festival, something I was lucky enough to be able to report on for the Orkney News.
This was following a public advert in the Shetland Times asking for squads to attend this meeting on a first come first served basis.
The women’s request was denied as they were not in a registered squad despite never having been asked who they were – do members of the committee have a photographic memory? or was it the fact that they were women?
If so does that mean that the festival officially excludes women? something the committee has refused to clarify when this issue has been raised in the past.
After queuing for an hour awaiting registration in this “local bastion of the patriarchy”, the man behind them in the queue was called, after pointing out this lack of manners, entrance up the stairs to where the registration process was happening was prevented by a man proudly describing himself as “key holder” of the shed. What that entails or how one proceeds to become a registered squad or indeed what the inner sanctum of the Galley Shed hold are still questions unknown to womankind.
Now the shock waves from this historic move may soon be lapping quietly at the shores of Orkney do not let that distract from the impact this can have on feeling empowered to have a voice with your community and the confidence to challenge inequality based on privilege where ever you find it.
One woman who wishes to remain anonymous due to the animosity that emerged on social media around the issue of the exclusion of women last January commented:
“I really wasn’t that bothered about Up Helly Aa. But changed my mind when I became appalled reading the deluge of angry, misogynistic comments from men on Social Media that are embolden by the privilege they have in our community.”
Another added that if you would have said five years ago that women in Saudi Arabia would be allowed to drive before girls were allowed to take part in Junior Up Helly Aa everyone would have laughed! now it is not funny it’s just embarrassing for Shetland.
A woman who has been a Lerwick resident for twenty-two years, and who has been an active squad member in the country festivals told me that what would be really meaningful for her would be to participate in a squad for Up Helly Aa where she lives.
Women in Shetland have found their voice and found that speaking up is empowering! We will not be put back in the box or indeed the kitchen, times have changed and it’s time for Up Helly Aa to change with them.
If anyone has any information on Women attempting to enter a squad previously in the Lerwick Up Helly Aa would they please contact me via the Orkney News as I would love to hear about it.