Gender debate: Are women equal to men in Oman?

07 Mar 2018
POSTED BY Y Magazine

New laws, broad mindsets and revamped social milieus have brought in a fresh wave of optimism in society on women’s rights. Hasan al Lawati seeks to explore the gender myths

You may have shared the stands with them and cheered just as wildly for the guys in action. And now, you could even hail a taxi driven by one of them at the end of the match to make it back to your place.

Women in Oman could flock to a soccer stadium and root for the team of their choice along with men, and they have been driving cars for years. From the first of this month they have been even allowed to run taxis, too.

There could be people who wonder what’s so much to talk about these small, normal, routine things, such as watching a game of football in public or a woman driving a car, but the truth is that such simple pleasures of life are still denied, in full or in part, or just granted, for women in some parts of the world.

Women in Oman enjoy a wide variety of roles and responsibilities. They have the right to vote and the right to contest elections. They are no longer restricted by male domination in the matter of marriage as a Royal Decree has granted them the right to appeal to His Majesty the Sultan against male guardians’ objections. Nor do they require the guardian’s approval to obtain a passport.

When it comes to work, Omani women do not shy away from fields that used to be viewed as male bastions. More than half of engineers in Oman are women. Neither are they afraid of working shifts nor reluctant to work outdoors.

That’s a bright, happy picture of women’s life, but does it mean that everything is so perfect for women here? How do society as whole and family in particular view the role and rights of women?

Among the slew of rights Omani women have been granted by law are the right to education, right to own property, right to employment, right to earn a fair and equal pay and the right to equal opportunities, but do  these rights mean that there is no discrimination at all against women in Oman? And how these rights guaranteed under law enable and empower women to lead a better life?

Change for the better

For decades Middle Eastern countries have been subjected to accusations of gender discriminations and the western media has labelled the Arab world as a “non-female-friendly zone”.

Is there any grain of truth in such allegations? And how is Oman different from its neighbours on the matter?

A look back in history will reveal that Omani women were widely empowered even before modern laws came into existence. It’s this fact that Dr Sharifa Al Yahyai, Oman’s former minister of social development, has stressed at a recent symposium, stating that Omani society was more moderate and open-minded then than it is now.

Post 1970, the Sultanate went through dramatic changes as it witnessed an economic boom that profoundly influenced all aspects of life in Oman.

The laws that were in place in the 70s have been subjected to a series of amendments to make sure men and women enjoy
equal rights.

“Legislative reforms would not have been successful without the profound support and vision of His Majesty the Sultan,” Dr Sharifa pointed out in her speech at the symposium organised by the Women’s Engineering Chapter last month.

Article 17 of the Basic Law of the State says that “… all citizens are equal before the law and they are equal in public rights and duties. There shall be no discrimination between them on the grounds of gender, origins, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile or social status.”

This clearly shows that the constitution stipulates that women in Oman are equal to men with absolute and complete rights and duties in public life.

“No discrimination between citizens regarding social rights and obligations, nor occupations and public office,”
Dr Sharifa stressed.

Among the laws that were abolished or amended to ensure a fairer treatment of women in Oman were:

Male guardian authority

According to Article 11/B of the Personal Status Law, consent of the male guardian was required for women for marriage, and there had been several cases in which male guardians prohibited their female relatives (sisters or daughters) from marrying the man of their own choice.

A Royal Decree issued in 2010 eliminated such male domination on women’ social life. The decree allows women who are prevented from marrying by their guardians or by Supreme Court rulings to submit their plea to His Majesty the Sultan within 30 days of the court order.

Land entitlement

For years, the Omani government granted men lands for different uses, while women were granted land only if they were in receipt of social security benefits. But this discrimination was brought to an end in 2008.

A Royal Decree issued in 2008 allowed women to stand a chance to be granted a plot of government land irrespective of their social and
financial status.

Testimony value

A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, as per a religion-influenced law that is effective in all other GCC and most Arab states.

Oman made women and men’s testimony equal before the court of law in 2008, making the Sultanate the first and only GCC country to make such a radical change.

Omani Passport Law

In 2010, a Royal Decree was issued to reform Article 12 of Omani Passport Law No. 69/97 to eliminate the need for guardian’s approval for issuing women’s passport.

The political regime in Oman believes in women’s participation and capabilities, Dr Sharifa said.

Where women lag behind

In Oman, women make 41.5 per cent of government employees, and enjoy an equal pay, according to the National Statistics and Information Centre, as of October 2017.

But women make only 24 per cent of private sector employees and 63 per cent of total job seekers.

While it is expected to see fewer women in fields like engineering and oil and gas sectors, more than half of engineers in Oman are women, according to Nashwa Al Rawahi, director of HMR Consultant

She said globally women’s participation in national parliaments was 23 per cent, adding that fewer than 33 per cent of senior and middle management positions were held by women.

Prof. Salma Al Kindy, Dean of College of Science, Sultan Qaboos University, drew attention to another area where women are lagging behind men. “Women are under-represented in research,” she said, blaming a lack of role models, prevalence of social taboos, and the load of family responsibilities being carried by women for this.

Are women happy with the changes?

A recent study by Sumaya Al Weheibi, a women and gender inequality specialist, shows that the level of education is “significantly related to happiness” of Omani women.

The higher the level of education the higher was the rate of happiness, according to the study that targeted 1,926 Omani females from 11 governorates. Al-Wahaibi’s study revealed that, occupation wise, Omani women who run their own businesses are the happiest compared to students and employees.

However, the recent study said that majority of the one-to-one interviews sample indicated that “the society is anti-women empowerment and social equality”.

Eight of 12 (67%) of the participants said employment status contributes to their happiness.

“They expressed that obtaining a tertiary education enhanced their everyday life from different perspectives.

Thus, getting a higher degree gave the women the opportunity to be engaged in the workforce and which leads them to be independent financially and that increases their confidence and well-being positively,” the researcher said. All participants indicated that the households’ roles in the Omani society are highly gendered in favour of men, according to the paper.

All participants indicated that the roles of the household in Omani society are highly gender-based, according to the study.

New generation, new mindset

Young Omani ladies, empowered by the state’s laws, are now conquering many male-dominated fields.

Y spoke to six young women employees of Shell who work in aviation refuelling at Muscat International Airport.

Ranya Awlad Thani, aviation operator, said she had not faced any objection from her family when she accepted the job. Ranya has been trained on quality control and safety in the workplace. “I convinced my family saying that I hold an engineering certificate and this is part of my profession.”

Salma Al Rasbi, who works in the same area, said her brother was the only family member who was not happy with working shifts, citing that it would be tiring for her. “I like this job, I told him that I will get experience and new skills. I do not really like office jobs and prefer more practical ones,” Salma explained.

Tahani Al Jahwari, aviation administrator, said she had no issues at all as two of her sister work as cabin crew.

Salma Al Midelwi, Stock Reconciler & HSSE Assistant, explained that her father was the one who encouraged her to work outdoors.

Sarah Al Mamari said the lifestyle had changed. “We study with men in colleges and attend the same training courses. While women would not have taken up such jobs some years ago, we see them now as opportunities.”

Shell Oman said the recent signing of agreement for operating the fuel farm facilities at the new Muscat International Airport has “played a significant role in creating these opportunities” as it announced the hiring of 15 young Omani job seekers in its aviation sector, with 6 female talents among them.
“For many decades now, on-field jobs haven’t been a magnet for Omani female talents, resulting in what might be seen as a male-dominant field, especially when compared to regular desk-jobs,” says Essam Al Busaidi, Human Resources & Admin Manager at Shell Oman.

“However,” he says “the Sultanate has seen tremendous achievements for the Omani woman during the era of the blessed renaissance under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Over the years, the local work scene has been witnessing a change in the awareness of local female talents, their families and the society in general has progressed and become more empowering and open when it comes to the different development opportunities these jobs have to offer.”

He explained that female jobseekers nowadays prioritize utilizing and improving their skills and leveraging their potentials to the maximum in the areas they are mostly interested in, equipped with the necessary knowledge and personal qualities they have gained throughout their studies or previous occupational experiences.

“The Company’s vision has been recently reinforced with opening the doors for new local female talents to break into the aviation refueling industry, which, traditionally-speaking, hasn’t been an attractive field for female talents. Shell Oman will continue to value its culture of integration, diversity and inclusiveness, and we will continue supporting and empowering women as we believe they play integral roles and will make a valuable contribution to our journey of success.” Hafidh Al Ismaily, Aviation, Bitumine & Marine Country Manager concluded.

Looking ahead

Women in Oman now enjoy the benefits of the great march the Sultanate has made in many fields. The new opportunities and exposures have brought in a welcome change in the mindset of people who some years ago would have found it hard to accept the new realities of social life.

Families are ready to let their daughters go in for the careers they love, fathers encourage their daughters to pursue their dreams that would have been frowned upon some years ago, men are open to the idea of their women playing their parts in all areas of life, and society is open to the new challenges.

Still, there are areas where women look forward to more openness but, at the moment, they are keen on making the most of the available opportunities. 

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