(Original artworks courtesy of artist Malvika Asher)
Imagine a world where equality drives society to greater heights, and where peace and harmony take centre-stage. A world where both women and men have equal opportunity to showcase the true extent of their abilities.
It’s a world we strive to accomplish over time, but it’s also one that Oman has successfully become over the last five decades – an achievement that, unambiguously, the Sultanate takes pride in as we celebrate Omani Women’s Day 2019 this October 17.
It’s a day that celebrates the women in our lives and one that highlights all achievements they’ve gifted the country with through their contributions in various fields – from health and medicine, to the economy, research, and education.
It’s also a day take stock of the progress brought about by those trail-blazing Omani women who have worked their way through the system to find success while going on to inspire a young wave of girls who have their sights set on a more prosperous and fruitful future – one that has them chasing their dreams.
Dr. Lamya Adnan al Haj, an entrepreneur who set up Coach 4 Change and Jalasat Mulhimoon, and an assistant professor at Sultan Qaboos University’s College of Science is among those who are in the spotlight for the work they do to inspire girls on a grassroots level. She says: “Lots of people don’t believe in the concept of having a women’s day.
“But I believe this is important for the women. I see it as a time for reflection. It’s very important that women look back at what they’ve been doing as a community and what changes have occurred over the course of years.
“The topics of women and equality have been around for decades – but a day such as this is important for recognising where we stand today.”
Dr. Lamya, who is also a mother of three, says she cultivated her dream to become a professor from her childhood. “I decided I wanted to become a professor the day I attended a class which my father was teaching.
“He inspired me to become what I am today, and everything I did after that was to achieve my goal. And I would let nothing get in the way of my dream and my final goal to become what I am today.”
This is also what drives Dr. Matlooba al Zadjali, a cardiologist at the Royal Hospital, the National Heart Center, and the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) department of the Ministry of Health who also set up her own hospital – the Specialised Centre for Heart & Vascular Disease – only a year ago.
She tells us: “The drive to success came to me early but I never really saw it as a task. When you love something, you just do it. And in my case, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor who made a difference to the community.”
That she does today with her hospital, which takes care of heart patients that must otherwise wait months for treatment.
“A great part of what several Omani women, me included, do is driven by that very passion to make something out of ourselves while improving everything around us. We aim to be providers out of instinct.
“And we owe it all to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said who has always supported women and given us the power and motivation to go and do whatever we want, with equal rights and a mutual respect for both genders staying the primary goal for the nation.”
Since his ascension to the throne, His Majesty has ensured paramountcy for gender equality. For instance, Article 17 of the Basic Law of the State says that “all citizens are equal before the law and in public rights and duties.
It goes on to add: “There shall be no discrimination between them on the grounds of gender, origins, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status.”
This means that women in Oman can choose whether they want to work or run a business, drive cars (which includes taxis), talk to people they want to, flock to sports stadiums to cheer for their favourite teams, and enjoy roles and responsibilities that several other states fail to offer their women citizens – rights that, sadly, not all women globally have access to even now in 2019.
It’s also worth noting that Omani women can vote and campaign in elections, appeal against family objections for marriage, obtain passports without the need for a guardian’s approval, own properties, study their course of interest and, more importantly, impart knowledge to the future of Oman: its youth.
Moreover, 8.9 per cent of Oman’s parliament is comprised of women, as per data released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
This is probably what motivated professor Muna al Farsy, who is a senior lecturer at the Higher College of Technology (HCT) and an environmentalist who took over as the project manager of a solar house in Oman.
She says: “It’s incredible how equality drives the nation. For that, we must thank His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Today, women such as myself are involved in several fields of life – those that we chose and decided to be a part of.”
Today, her students – both men and women – see Muna as a role model. We even connect with one student who has, since graduating, started his own company that supplies solar products in Oman.
Talking about being a role model to young girls, Muna says humbly: “Being a role model is quite an important job as it helps shape someone’s personality and mind-set. And by educating women in Oman, we’re not only educating individuals, we’re educating a future of young boys and girls that they will help to educate and train.
“Several of the young ladies who I educated in the engineering field moved on after graduation and achieved great things. But to become a role model, you need to be an ordinary person. All I ever did was stay true to myself. I did simple things like coming early to work, interacting with everyone, and listening to others.
“That’s how I connected with the youth.”
But it’s not only engineers and doctors who are making a difference in the community. Enter Arwa Moosa al Musafir, a fashion designer turned entrepreneur who started her own company to provide jobs for young unemployed Omani women in Al Khoud.
She tells us: “Women in Oman are very talented and there’s no shortage of potential here – be it in the field of arts and culture or even more specialised ones. That’s why I boldly started my own company that offers businesses traditional Omani handicrafts.
“To do this, I met with ladies who had knowledge on Omani traditions so that we could educate the public about how great our skills are in handicrafts and arts.
“Having seen responses from several of our international clients, I can attest that there’s a lot more potential here – and I hope to involve more women who have a passion for handicrafts.
“What’s amazing is when I sit and talk to them about their jobs, I learn about how fervent they are about what they do. They love working in their spare time from their homes, and that’s what drives them to do what they do.
“Aside from that, these women are also sustaining their families. The income they earn is used to supplement what their husbands or fathers make, monthly. This even motivated me more to work towards helping such women showcase their skills.”
Even Muna shares a similar train of thought. Adding to Arwa’s statements, she says: “It’s not only about attributing women in the professional work-field, but all women who are giving their time and energy to make a living or run a family smoothly.
“They could be working in grocery stores, agricultural fields, arts and handicrafts, helping their husbands, or running their own families.
“All women need to be proud of this day. The only advice I have for the young girls is to not become set in their ways. Always keep exploring new things and do things that you want to do.
“I ask my students to enjoy the period they live in. When I was younger, some 40 years ago, many things weren’t available to us; things such as internet or electricity. But, now, you have all these at your disposal, and more. So, you should also be able to do more.
“Enjoy your time; and while you do that, work efficiently. We were told as kids to work very hard. But it’s not a matter of working hard; it’s about understanding how to work smart. That’s how you can grow to become a better person and a professional one who can achieve great things wherever you go.”
Dr. Lamya, who offers talks internationally and has a media presence among both the Omani and expat population in the Sultanate, also believes in making oneself as ready for the outside world as possible.
Advising girls in Oman, she says: “I would like you all to aspire high.
“The only barrier you will face here in Oman is your own self. If we fail, it’s not the country that must be blamed. Everything is available and there’s no excuse for us to pin our failures on. My simple advice is to work hard and make something great out of yourselves.
“At the end of the day, when you think about it, we’ve been blessed to be a part of a nation that not only recognises our talents, but also gives us an opportunity to apply ourselves and show the world that we’re a part of a self-sustaining and forward-thinking country.
“Many women from Oman have gone on to become great names. Now, it’s up to you and me to do the same. Just remember this: the belief to succeed is in the root of all great and notable achievements.”