Documentary looks at women’s role in Up-Helly-A’

Women’s participation in Up-Helly-A’ is put under the microscope in a new BBC short film.

The production features activists claiming that women should be allowed to join squads in Lerwick’s fire festival.

Lesley Simpson believes women should be allowed to join squads in Up-Helly-A’. Photo: Kevin Osborn.

Former SMUHA Guizer Jarl Lesley Simpson said: “I think it’s absolutely the same as when women weren’t given the vote, when women weren’t allowed to have a say in anything that happened to them.”

She added: “There are times through history where women have been entirely subjugated and we have to move on from there. It’s wrong.”

The film also features an interview with former Up-Helly-A’ Guizer Jarl David Nicolson, whose brother John led the festival this year.

Mr Nicolson said: “My opinion is the festival works well – why change it? To me, I know how much the women behind the scenes do for Up-Helly-A’.

“Dress-makers who do all the sewing, they love what they do and they see it as that’s their part to play.

“There’s no way that they’re being discriminated against. I think some traditions are changed for change’s sake. I think Up-Helly-A’ is Up-Helly-A’.”

The eight-minute-long video, directed by Harriet Constable, can be watched here. 


Add Your Comment
  • Peter Hamilton

    • March 23rd, 2019 9:31

    Well done to Lesley and all for taking a stand. Its plainly time for change.

    Without wanting to Labour the point, there is nothing Liberal or Democratic about excluding women and girls, as Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson would surely agree. How hard can it be for Tavish Scott or Alistair Carmichael to say they’d be happy to see change?

    Once one branch of a local political party breaks the silence the others will join in too. The UHA committee will turn a deaf ear for a while thereafter, but at least young people in Shetland will have been shown right from wrong and people will no longer be able to say the community isn’t bothered.

    Perpetuating sexism cannot be condoned and should not be ignored. Its harmful and needs to be challenged. Shetland’s children have a right to grow up in a community that does not discriminate, and everyone has a responsibility to advance children’s rights, the SIC too, and particularly so. It is perfectly possible for the Convenor to host the Jarl Squad and discharge his responsibilities by saying there is a need for change. What are Shetland’s leaders scared of? Do your jobs.

  • Brian Smith

    • March 23rd, 2019 14:09

    Brilliant contributions by Lesley Simpson and the other activists. Well done.


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