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Women’s Rights in Oman: A Depressing Conversation

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A few days ago I just happened to be in an office with a few colleagues (male) after a meeting and one of them joked about Oman being ranked second in the Arab World  for women’s rights, etc. Yes I can personally attest to the fact that Oman is an awesome place for women… BUT, that doesn’t at all mean we can pretend problems don’t exist (a technique we all know so very well). Since they brought it up, I started pointing out that there are definitely things that require improvement in Oman.. but that we’re on the right track.

They casually told me that nothing requires improvement and that Oman and Islam have granted women every right they need. I started listing the things that I felt stood in the way of female empowerment in Oman (Examples: the right to marry/divorce, freedom of movement, the right to marry a non-Omani, and the huge societal pressures that block women from living the life they want… particularly in conservative areas of Oman like Dhofar).

These colleagues I was talking to are western-educated and spent a considerable amount of time abroad. They see themselves as ‘open-minded’ and ‘liberal’. Both had girlfriends their ‘abroad lives’ and female friends, etc, etc. You know, the typical Omani scenario. But they came home to Oman, married their first cousin, and live completely traditional lives.

To my horror, they flipped and point-blank accused me of promoting ‘Western ideologies’ in Dhofar and warned me of how dangerous it is. To them, women in Dhofar shouldn’t be working and mixing with men because “a little freedom will lead to huge corruption” (an exact quote). To them, a woman’s place is at home because if she works, her children will be raised badly. To them, allowing women to drive means giving them the freedom to date and move around as they like (the horror!). To them, promoting women’s right to divorce is absurd (currently an Omani man can divorce his wife in court without her knowing, and the court doesn’t even bother to make sure she knows – same goes with marriage). To them, female empowerment will ‘destroy society’.

So, yes Omani legislation may grant women their ‘rights’ (Oman ratified CEDAW in 2005 with reservations on several articles not in line with Islamic Sharia law) but in Oman, I’ve said it and I’ll say it again “Society is more powerful than the law”. If your brother or father or uncle or husband decides you can’t work, then forget any dreams of working. If they decide you’re not allowed to study, then forget about it. If they don’t let you drive, then you don’t drive. If they don’t let you go anywhere without a chaperone, then you aren’t going anywhere. The list is long, but this is how our girls in Salalah live. This is their reality.

These men told me that girls aren’t ‘trustworthy’ or ‘responsible’ enough to be given freedom. THEY SAID THAT. I asked them why; they answered that this is how women are. I told them if they raised their daughters differently things will change. They said society will never change. I disagreed.

These men at work accused me of ‘living in an unrealistic bubble’ and ‘promoting western ideologies’. Since when has making my own choices in life been a western and unrealistic ideology? I humor society by being timid and quiet in public, by wearing the black abaya, by attending the social gatherings required of me…. etc. Yet I still have the freedom (thanks to my family) to work, drive, travel, run my own errands, and make my own decisions. They raised me differently. I told my colleagues that this is possible for all girls. Change is possible, if slow.

The conversation took a turn for the worse when they told me that my ideas were un-Islamic and that Islam grants women full dignity ‘within the four walls of her home’. I chose to end the conversation at that since I don’t want to delve into any discussion of Islam with people who have mixed up cultural values with Islamic ones. My Islam is different. My faith in God is strong, but I am not afraid of using my head to challenge myself and the traditions I grew up with.

As you can see, the conversation with these colleagues upset me. It ruined my mood for the rest of the day and had me thinking. Deep inside me I know change is coming and that it’s possible to live life to the fullest without giving up religious values. I don’t agree with the current lives girls live in Salalah, a life dictated by ‘society’ and ‘what will people say’, and when the girls attempt to challenge society then religion is brought in as the final force to shut these girls up and keep them behind closed doors.

So…. no, things aren’t all peaches and cream in Oman.

I’m sorry for sounding so negative, but that whole discussion left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was a reminder of the society I live in.

2 Responses to Women’s Rights in Oman: A Depressing Conversation

  1. markjuliansmith 04/12/2013 at 12:35 PM

    “The conversation took a turn for the worse when they told me that my ideas were un-Islamic and that Islam grants women full dignity ‘within the four walls of her home’.”

    “I chose to end the conversation..” You are fantastic!!

    ‘Four walls’ you lucky thing you. Yes you would have been in trouble asking for a fifth wall.

    Our lives are constructed exactly the same as buildings some of our architects and builders can only build four walls, others have created palaces with many rooms – is it wrong to determine you are not satisfied with four walls and want to change architect and builder?

    That is not to say in a palace there may not still be some problems with plumbing, nothing is perfect.

    Apparently a very dangerous thing to do changing architects and builders for some of our dearest fellow travelers particularly women – who can see there are many more rooms attached even to their own houses yet women are still not able to entre.

    “..education of women in particular fosters patterns of thinking that greatly improve quality of life, for both parents and children.” Development Through the Lifespan, Fifth Edition Laura E. Berk

    I noticed Laura did not say ‘men in particular’ yet men work so diligently to keep women in their four walls – what could life be like for all of us if all this potential was enabled to be realized?

  2. markjuliansmith 04/12/2013 at 9:50 AM

    THe following may not lift your depression nor for that matter womens depression as to their relative state to Man in almost all cultures but it may provide good reason why women find they remain subject to such a tragic condition – Clearly your few colleagues (male) suffer from what I call the ‘little man syndrome’ and it has nothing to do with their ‘height’. When in such a situation simply wiggle your little finger right or left does not matter either unnoticed or noticed – up to you.

    Reflection on:
    Gender differences in implicit self-esteem following a romantic partner’s success or failure.
    Ratliff, Kate A.; Oishi, Shigehiro Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 105(4), Oct 2013, 688-702. doi: 10.1037/a0033769

    “This research examined the influence of a romantic partner’s success or failure on one’s own implicit and explicit self-esteem. In Experiment 1, men had lower implicit self-esteem when their partner did well at a “social intelligence” task than when their partner did poorly. Women’s implicit self-esteem was unaffected by partner performance. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that Dutch men’s implicit self-esteem was negatively affected by their romantic partner’s success. In Experiment 4, we replicated Experiments 1–3 in both the academic and social domains, and in Experiment 5, we demonstrated that men’s implicit self-esteem is negatively influenced by thinking about a romantic partner’s success both when the success is relative and when it is not. In sum, men’s implicit self-esteem is lower when a partner succeeds than when a partner fails, whereas women’s implicit self-esteem is not.” (Ratliff, Kate A.; Oishi, Shigehiro, 2013)

    If these negative feelings of male self-esteem are inherent regards the level of women’s relative status this would possibly inform Mans actions to diminish women’s opportunities(even in workplaces) and explain the basis for Mans propensity in ‘HIS’ religious and secular codex construct of women as less and restricted to Man’s determination. So as women, in say the Islamic culture, went along the different modes of dress to the extreme this would be seen to lift Muslims Mans implicit self-esteem as the women increased their visual adherence to subservience thus relieving to a degree whatever threat may be derived from Muslim Mans negative feelings of women possibly being equal in power or even seen and be ‘better’ than Muslim Man.

    This could be culturally accentuated by cultural foundation codex supercharging Mans possibly innate propensity to suffer from ‘little man syndrome’. The greater the restriction and subjugation of women informed by cultural foundation codex one would expect any deviation or threatened deviation would incur are relative response from Males derived directly from Mans need to ameliorate negativity and increase feeling of self-esteem of keeping women in their place.

    Given the women did not exhibit any loss in self-esteem it could be women taking on signs of subservience do not suffer diminished self-esteem relative to Mans increase – maybe a evolutionary protection mechanism – not being able to ‘feel’ the true nature of their relativity – challenging the stronger ‘physically’ Man as to equality perhaps had such negative consequences overtime it informed such a state of inequity being if not ‘right’ acceptable by women.

    It would be interesting to see if the ‘little man syndrome’ can be culturally differentiated in specific cultural contexts such as Muslim women’s clothing, if it is seen the Muslim Mans implicit self-esteem rises as the extremes of Muslim women’s clothing are reached one may be able to infer this has more to do with Muslims Mans ego and women innately understand this and this is why women submit to such a state rather than subservience to any God.

    Of course this is not simply a Muslim Man issue at all but may go some way in explaining why Man treats women so badly and makes up pretend authority and fallacious justifications for keeping women subject and why some women acquiesce to this most outrageous circumstance ‘Fear of What Man Can and Does Do’.

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