SCOTLAND is potentially losing out on brilliant musicians because of gender inequality, it has been warned.

The issue has been brought to the fore in recent months after a number of female artists said they were sexually assaulted and pressured into having sex in return for gig bookings.

This followed statements by other female musicians such as award-winning Iona Fyfe that they had suffered sexism and misogyny.

The BIT Collective, set up to tackle gender inequality in Scotland’s trad music scene, has called for a “fundamental culture change” in the attitudes to women’s safety, dignity and equality.

The problem was again under the spotlight last week during Edinburgh Tradfest in a talk given by Dr Una Monaghan who has researched the impact of gender on participation in Irish traditional music.

The National:

Dr Lori Watson (above) of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, who curated and chaired the Rebellious Truth lecture-recital and panel discussion, told the Sunday National that it was clear there were parallels between women’s experience of gender inequality in the trad scene in Scotland and Ireland.

“ I think we have all experienced it,” said Watson, a fiddle player, singer and composer. “From more obvious behaviour to unconscious bias. Sexism affects all people in society and in traditional music when limitations are applied to young musicians – such as the idea that they don’t have the capacity or the physical attributes to play a certain instrument or in a certain way – that means you potentially lose out on brilliant future artists. It is incredibly damaging, and I don’t think anyone has escaped it, even if it has been in a low-level way.”

She said many of the issues flagged up in Monaghan’s study were not ground-breaking.

“The shocking thing is how commonplace it is” said Watson. “Unfortunately, I think most women have experienced some behaviour or language, which is limiting in some way.”

In her study, Monaghan, who is also an acclaimed harpist and composer, compiled anecdotal evidence and witness testimony from more than 80 Irish traditional musicians.

Eleven of the 83 responses gave details of sexual assault, and a further 16 gave accounts of sexual harassment.

One musician spoke of her shock and humiliation when her manager stuffed cash down her bra “in full view of everyone” after she had asked for payment.

Across the board, there were examples of being subjected to sexual innuendo and of being criticised as “a battle-axe or a handful” if any protests were made.

Monaghan, who has suffered abuse because of her research, said the issue was complex but change could be effected if everyone in the sector made the effort.

Speaking at last week’s event in the Traverse Theatre, she said one thing that could be done immediately was to make sure that festivals offered a balance of male and female performers.

“In terms of festival line-ups there is no excuse,” she said.

Watson said Monaghan’s work made clear the emotional cost of gender inequality.

“There are constant assumptions about capability, about status, about role and some quite horrifying quotes in the study about how a female musician in a band of males is quite often assumed to be having a sexual relationship with one of their colleagues,” she said. “Women are being valued on the basis of how they look more than their male colleagues.

“What frustrates me the most as a practitioner is why can’t woman turn up and just be brilliant musicians? Why do they have to look a certain way and why do these comments have to be made in professional settings when they are not made about males?

“It is limiting, it is devaluing and exhausting although it is not unique to traditional music as it exists in almost every sphere of professional work.”

Monaghan’s research shows the problem even extends to the design of instruments made by and for men.

One flute player noted: “The current traditional instrument design was based around larger hands (men’s hands mainly); it’s discouraging that this tradition is so reluctant to accept different designs to be more accessible for more people.”

READ MORE: Iona Fyfe: The steps we can take to change the bleak scenario of misogyny in music

Monaghan says there were many people on the trad scene and in wider society that refused to believe the issue exists. Others believe it is a problem of the past but the responses to the study, which included four from Scotland and some from the US, detailed incidents over the last decade.

She added that sexism and misogyny was not only silencing and isolating musicians who had much to offer, but exhausting those that speak out.

Both Monaghan and Watson agreed some action was being taken to address the issue and more women were starting to appear on stage and in decision making roles.

“There is some movement but there is so much more to do,” said Watson.

While there has been some good work on the safeguarding of young people in education settings, she said it was time to address the power hierarchies that exist.

“Gatekeepers might not realise the power they have and that perhaps there are biases at play there,” she said.

"Secondly, the experiences of those who are underrepresented have to be understood and amplified. They are not under-represented by chance.”

It is also vitally important that men take part in the discussion in order to make the traditional arts sector, and society in general, more welcoming, with better equality of opportunity at all levels.

“We want our traditional music sector to be positive, welcoming, inclusive, accessible and diverse,” said Watson.

“There is a desire to work on this because we are a close-knit community.”