Glass ceilings are being shattered for the Sultanate’s women, and girls can get ready to follow these five who have raised the bar.
Omani Women’s Day: a day to appreciate and celebrate the women that make up the Sultanate. They hold different titles – from doctors, ministers, pilots and engineers; to architects, accountants, receptionists and artists. But they all share one common passion: success.
The look in their eyes say it all: it’s their time to shine. And at a time that’s ever accepting of women in leadership, they know that they need to stand out and be at the top of their game to be recognised.
An image, they say, reflects one’s work – and they use that to their advantage but not before they lead the way for a new generation to follow in their footsteps.
These are the stories of Oman’s top women – some of whom are juggling homes and careers, and above all, aim to raise the profile of their country to the highest pedestal.
Profession: Professional Tennis Player
Notable accolades: Ten singles and 13 doubles titles on the ITF Women’s Circuit.
Notably Oman’s greatest tennis player, Fatma al Nabhani, has represented her nation in several international tournaments. She made her debut in 2009 on a wild card when she entered the Dubai World Tennis Championship – but has since gone on to uphold the values of the game to the utmost standards.
Known for her deadly-accurate two-handed backhand, Fatma has gone on to become the nation’s most prolific player and is already known as the GCC’s first professional tennis player.
“I never expected to reach such heights in such a short time in my field,” says Fatma. “But, I have a long way to go, too. No one forced me to train. I just loved the game because it was all around me. As we say, it runs in your blood.
“Being one of the very few women athletes in Oman, the spotlight was on me. I got pressured because people always expect the best from you.
“You win tournaments but sometimes they don’t understand that you cannot keep winning all the time. You have to lose and learn from your mistakes.”
While Fatma’s success story is still being scripted one step at a time, she recently came into the spotlight in France… but for the wrong reasons.
Fatma stormed out of a US$25k ITF tournament at Clermont-Ferrand in France, after accusing some of the chair umpires of racism. More details are yet to be revealed, but in an emotional video she has published online, she is seen saying: “Being a Muslim player and from an Arab country I wear leggings under my skirt respecting my religion and feeling comfortable to compete and continue playing tennis.”
“Women needn’t hide their emotions, especially when they feel they’ve done no wrong. It’s your right to tell the people around you that what you worked hard for is important to you.”
It’s her strength and tough character that inspired international sports apparel brand Nike to create a video about her as an example, and above all, a role model for budding sportswomen and men.
Profession: Founder, and former president and chairperson of Oman Cancer Association
Notable accolades: Public Service Award – United Nations
Hon. Madam Yuthar al Rawahy is the embodiment of a true warrior. Not only has she battled various forms of cancer – with much success – four times, she is also the reason women have instant access to the mobile mammogram screening service in Oman.
At a time when red-tape and a lack of knowledge was prevalent, Madam Yuthar put her foot down to break “cultural barriers” surrounding the disease once and for all in 2004 when she set up the National Association for Cancer Awareness (or as we now know it, the Oman Cancer Association).
Only someone that has lost a beloved one to the disease will know the pain it causes – and it must be that which motivated Madam Yuthar to take up the cause and spread awareness.
In the early days, she was handing out leaflets in shopping malls to raise awareness about breast cancer. In an earlier interview with Y, she was noted as saying: “I remember it vividly; the women tore them [the leaflets] up and threw them at us, saying, ‘you are bringing evil into society’.”
Now, 18 years on, the results are staggering – and the stigma has been torn down. Mobile screening has helped detect early cases of breast cancer, and continues to serve the women in Oman to date.
Profession: Mental health expert, and founder and owner of the Whispers of Serenity Clinic
Notable accolades: Forbes’ ‘50 Most Influential Arab Women’ and ‘Golden Shield of Excellence’ from the Arab Women’s Council.
Sayyida Basma al Said is an icon in the fields of mental health, children’s well-being and family counselling in the GCC region.
Today, she runs her own clinic – the Whispers of Serenity Clinic – in the capital, but started her career as a psychologist at Sultan Qaboos University.
Decades of hard work and resilience: that’s what sets Sayyida Basma apart from the rest. Her work has been noted across the GCC, as she has gathered awards and recognition from our neighbours in the UAE, Qatar, and beyond.
She says: “My family has always been my inspiration. At a young age, my granny taught me that nothing is impossible to do in life, my mother taught me to be friendly and positive at all times, and my father taught me to work hard.
“That’s what I apply in my daily life – and that’s what has allowed me to work towards my goal of breaking stereotypes and taboos surrounding my topic of interest: mental well-being.
Just last week (October 5 and 6) Sayyida Basma and her team organised the largest campaign in the Sultanate: ‘Not Alone’ – which focused on mental health issues and the struggles that individuals go through daily.
Profession: Entrepreneur and co-founder of Golden Spoon Group
Sarah al Balushi may come across as a humble and soft-spoken woman on the face of it but behind the scenes, she’s revolutionising the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry in Oman – and in a grand way.
Many of those living in Oman would have visited her restaurant at some point during their stay here. Her restaurants – the Manhattan Fish Market, the Subway franchises, Golden Spoon, China Town restaurant, Karachi Darbar, Tropical, and many more – are synonymous with the F&B industry in the country.
But, as it turns out, she doesn’t want to stop there, either.
Her goal is to create the largest food festival in the Middle East. She already tore down targets when 15,500 people visited her inaugural festival, in the November of 2017, and intends to break past the 20,000 mark next month, with the second season of the same.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman – success comes only when you work hard,” she says. “Oman is one of the few countries in the GCC that upholds both genders equally in all spheres of life.
“So, even in terms of education, women are right up there with men. But, what we need to then work on is on setting short-term goals. Set up targets for yourself and keep a short deadline. That will motivate you to work harder.”
If everything goes as planned, she may very well become one of the Middle East’s east’s most successful women in business.
Profession: Senior first officer (pilot)
Notable accolades: First female Omani senior first officer
Maha al Balushi was destined to reach for the skies… literally. She’s credited as Oman’s first female senior first officer pilot – a title she worked hard for years to attain. But, there’s more to her success story than just that.
In an earlier interview with Y, she
revealed that her family had supported her through her early years even though they’d wished for her to switch careers.
“The day I operated my first flight, I knew that I had made the right decision in my career, and that it was the job I was born to do,” she told Y.
“It gave me a sense of responsibility and changed the way I looked at aviation.”
The rest as they say is history. Today, Maha is one of the few Asian women pilots that have successfully piloted the wide-body twin-engine A330 jet.
To those looking to pursue a career in the airline industry, Maha advises: “If you want to be a pilot, it should come out of passion. Image, prestige or money should not be the driving force behind your decision. There is a lot of work that has to be done to excel. No short cuts or easy goings are allowed, and nothing below the highest levels of professionalism is accepted.”
“My advice to the Omani youth in general – and to females in particular – is that we must follow our inner voice that tells us what we truly want to be. We should know what we are passionate about, bring it out and excel in it.