CPA to address gender equality concerns
In the wake of worldwide discussion of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s (RSPS) recent decision to keep its membership males-only, Scotland’s Competing Pipers Association (CPA) plans to raise the issue of potential perceived gender discrimination of RSPS-member judges when it meets with the Joint Committee for Judging, the group that compiles the only formal list of recognized and “approved” solo piping judges in the UK.
In a message to all CPA members, CPA President John-Angus Smith wrote, “There is an expectation from the CPA membership that all judges impartially adjudicate piping competitions, and whilst there has never been a report of gender bias that the CPA Executive has been asked to raise with the judging community, there does appear to be a conflict of interest if judges are members of an organization that has gender bias at the core of its membership criteria.
“We have no plans to promote a boycott of events with RSPS involvement and, at this stage, all of the judges on the Approved List have our complete support. However, given the role that RSPS members play in piping public life, we strongly recommend that the membership of the RSPS reviews its decision and takes the chance to redefine its position.”
Smith’s October 29th message came just days before the annual solo competitions in London, England, where RSPS-member Neill Mulvie is scheduled to judge. The organizers of the Scottish Piping Society of London Competitions on November 1st have no plans to make changes to its roster of judges.
“I would hesitate in even considering banning Neil Mulvie without being made aware of the facts, especially this late in the day,” said Adam Sanderson, president of the Scottish Piping Society of London. “The motion to end the RSPS ban [on female members] was defeated by 39 votes to 36, with three abstentions. For all I know, Neill Mulvie may have been one of those who was for ending the ban. I will not condemn one person for the actions of others.”
In a poll conducted by pipes|drums 58 per cent of the world’s pipers and drummers said Yes to the question, “Considering the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s refusal to accept women as members, should a boycott against piping events with RSPS involvement occur?”
There is no indication of a boycott of the London competitions by pipers, but Sanderson added, “If there is to be a serious boycott, the Competing Pipers’ Association [CPA] need to consider removing RSPS members from the judges list.”
The Joint Committee for Judging comprises representatives from various UK-based organizations, including the CPA and the Piobaireachd Society. There is no formal solo piping adjudicator accreditation process in the UK and no unifying association that governs actual competitions. Some of the more prominent UK events have voluntarily elected to employ only judges from the approved Joint Committee list. At least four full members of the RSPS are on the Joint Committee list of approved judges.
“It is fair to say that soundings we have taken within the CPA membership following publication of the recent vote indicate some discomfort on this issue,” Smith added in his message to CPA members.
Andrea Boyd, Megan Canning and Jenny Hazzard – three top-flight female solo pipers on the UK competition circuit – each say that they have no desire to withdraw from events judged by RSPS members, despite the possible perception of gender discrimination.
“Whatever my personal views, I’m not willing at this stage to withdraw from a competition because there may be a judge on the bench who is a member of the RSPS – one who, incidentally, I know first-hand disagrees with the ban on women members,” Hazzard said. “This might not seem very principled on my part, but I’m not ready to be a one-woman campaign against the RSPS or against sex discrimination in piping! Rather than individual pipers having to take the weight of this responsibility, I feel it is the responsibility of the Joint Committee for Judging to discuss this issue and decide what action to take. This includes the CPA, as a member organization of the Joint Committee, and I think the CPA should be determining the views of its membership to present to the Joint Committee.”
“As a solo competitor, I have been judged by at least three members of the RSPS,” Boyd said. “At this point in time, none of these judges have provided comment on this ruling. As a competitor, I have never felt to be at a disadvantage against my male colleagues in front of these men – in fact the opposite; I have received much encouragement in my piping pursuits and congratulations for my achievements from members of the RSPS. In addition, I have never heard or seen discrimination towards my female contemporaries from RSPS judges."
Patricia Henderson (nee Innes), who, along with Anne Spalding (nee Stewart) and Rona Lightfoot (nee MacDonald), in 1976 broke the gender barrier at the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering after the UK brought into law anti-gender-discrimination legislation, feels that it’s a non-issue.
“As for their judging females, I have not come across any prejudice,” Henderson said. “Just because [the RSPS] want a ‘men only’ social night does not mean they cannot appreciate excellent professional women players in competition. For the record, the RSPS have had Rona MacDonald judge them at their annual competition. If that isn’t a sign of respect for women pipers what is. There are plenty of other issues to get het up about in piping, but this isn’t one of them!”
Sanderson added, “I find the results of the RSPS vote both shocking and sad. The Scottish Piping Society of London welcome competitors of both genders. [The Scottish Piping Society of London has] both male and female members, competitors and students. We are interested in hearing and promoting good piping, and could not care less what the sex of the piper is, so long as they are doing a good job in playing the music of the great Highland bagpipe on a good instrument.”
At publication time, Mulvie and Alan Forbes, also a full RSPS member on the Joint Committee for Judging’s Approved List, had not yet provided on-the-record responses to questions.