Gender equality row over male-only Viking festival

Campaigners fight for gender equal Viking festival

Campaigners from Up Helly Aa for Aa want women to be able to participate

Monday, May 13, 2019

An annual festival in the Shetland Islands has sparked an equality row after refusing to let women take part.

The Up Helly Aa event sees 1,000 men and boys parade through the streets of Lerwick, before hurling flaming torches onto a Viking longboat.

However, a row has now erupted after four female high school pupils had their applications to join the parade rejected because it was male-only, despite stories of female warriors in Viking folklore and other communities in the region allowing female participation.

Protest group Up Helly Aa for Aa asked Shetland Islands Council bosses to help convince organisers to open up the event to women, but it ruled that the festival was not breaching the Equality Act 2010.

Council Chief Executive Maggie Sandison said: “It is not for Shetland Islands Council to pass judgement on how other organisations run their own business, but I did want to be assured that, as an organisation, the Council acts and behaves appropriately in this respect.”

Up Helly Aa for Aa leader, Sally Huband, said she did not want her home to be known as a place "where discrimination is permitted".

“The fact remains there are females in Shetland who wish to participate but who are being prevented from doing so solely because they are women or girls," she said.

"Shetland should not become known as the one place in the country where discrimination is permitted and in fact encouraged by the local authority.”

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