Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ to allow women in squads for first time

The Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ committee has said there will be no gender restrictions on squads for the 2023 festival, in a landmark decision.

The fire festival, the largest of the isles events, has long resisted calls to allow women and girls to join squads.

But in a historic announcement, the committee said today (Wednesday) they had decided to relax the long-standing custom of only allowing men and boys to be in squads.

“We felt that it was time to give squads a choice over their guizers, including allowing female participation,” said committee secretary Robert Geddes.

“The decision means the festival in Lerwick on Tuesday, 31st January 2023 will have a different dimension to it, but we have no doubt that its essence and spirit will remain the same.”

Mr Geddes said that the festival was currently at full capacity, with 47 squads, so female members would have to join existing squads.

“We run a large and popular fire festival and have unfortunately had to turn down applications from folk wanting to start new squads, or looking to increase maximum numbers within squads, over the past few years.

“That said, there is always a turnover of guizers within squads from year-to-year, and by giving squads the freedom to choose we are actively allowing change to happen.”

The other criteria for participation – that guizers must be 16 or older and have resided in Shetland continuously for five years – will remain the same.

Mr Geddes said positive communications had also been made with hall committees regarding their opening for the 2023 Up-Helly-A’ festival.

The Junior Up Helly A’ Committee also announced there would no longer be gender restrictions.

“The pandemic has meant that the event could not take place during the past two years and, with a potential return in 2023 for the 66th festival, this has allowed the committee the opportunity to reflect and consider the way in which the festival moves forward,” the junior committee said.

“Therefore, the junior festival will be available with no gender restrictions.

“Further registration details will be announced in the future, however we can confirm that the process to elect the 2023 junior jarl will be open to all young people in S2 at school in Lerwick who wish to be considered.”


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