Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November 2014, 13:54 GMT

Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa - Oman

Publisher Freedom House
Author Mary-Jane Deeb
Publication Date 14 October 2005
Cite as Freedom House, Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa - Oman, 14 October 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47387b6ec.html [accessed 20 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 2,600,000
GDP Per Capita (PPP): $13,340
Economy: Capitalist-statist
Ranking on UN HDI: 74 out of 177
Polity: Traditional monarchy
Literacy: Male 82.0% / Female 65.4%
Percent Women Economically Active: 20.0%
Date of Women's Suffrage: 2003
Women's Fertility Rate: 4.1
Percent Urban/Rural: Urban 72% / Rural 28%

COUNTRY RATINGS FOR OMAN

Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice: 2.0
Autonomy, Security, and Freedom of the Person: 2.1
Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity: 2.7
Political Rights and Civic Voice: 1.2
Social and Cultural Rights: 2.1

(Scale of 1 to 5: 1 represents the lowest and 5 the highest level of freedom women have to exercise their rights)

INTRODUCTION

Oman is a monarchy that has been independent since the expulsion of the Portuguese in 1650. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who overthrew his father in a coup, has ruled the country by royal decree since 1970. He serves as both chief of state and head of government, as well as supreme commander of the armed forces, prime minister, and minister of defense, foreign affairs, and finance. Sultan Qaboos also appoints and presides over the council of ministers.

Limited political reform occurred in the 1990s with the establishment in 1991 of the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council), which was later expanded under the 1996 promulgation of "The White Book: the Basic Law of Oman." The Basic Law, which serves as Oman's constitution, provides for a bicameral parliament, the Council of Oman, which comprises a 57-seat appointed upper chamber, the Majlis al-Dawla (State Council), and the expanded Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council) as the lower chamber. The Consultative Council serves as an advisory body, which has no binding legislative powers and may only recommend changes to new laws. The 83 members of this body are elected by limited suffrage for four-year terms. It was only in 2003 that suffrage became universal for adult Omani citizens, both men and women.

Sultan Qaboos began to liberalize Oman's economy in the 1970s, transforming it from a poor country with no infrastructure to a highly developed, rich country. Oman now has an annual per capita GDP of $13,340. While the country has significant oil reserves, these reserves are likely to run out within the next 20 years. Today, the petroleum sector contributes about 40 percent of Oman's gross domestic product, down from 70 percent in the 1980s. The sultan has pursued policies to liberalize the economy for long-term economic growth by investing extensively in the environment, education, and tourism industries. Oman gained full membership in the World Trade Organization in 2000.

Oman has a population of 2.6 million, less than 2 million of whom are Omani citizens. The majority of noncitizens are foreign guest workers, chiefly from South Asia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Philippines, who are not afforded the same legal protections as citizens. Islam is the state religion, and the Basic Law establishes Shari'a (Islamic law) as the source of all legislation. While 75 percent of Omanis are Ibadi Muslims, there are sizable minorities of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, as well as small Christian and Hindu communities.

Rights of assembly and association are extremely limited in Oman, and no meaningful organized political opposition exists. Public gatherings require government permission, and political parties are banned by law. While the government permits the formation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there are no human rights or women's rights NGOs and no labor or trade unions. Freedom of expression and democratic debate are also extremely limited.

Women in Oman have made steady progress over the past decade. There are currently more women than men enrolled in higher education at the university level despite gender-discriminatory practices in the enrollment process. Women's rate of participation in the labor force is on the rise, and an estimated one-third of all civil servants are women. In 2000, the sultan appointed five women to the State Council, and this number was raised to eight in 2003. In March of 2004, Sultan Qaboos appointed Oman's first woman minister with a cabinet portfolio to head the ministry of higher education. Nevertheless, women's participation in the political process remains low, and they hold only two of the 83 seats in Oman's Consultative Council.

One of the major challenges to women's rights advocacy and women's status in Oman is the overall denial of basic civil liberties such as freedom of association and expression. Women also face legal discrimination and are afforded unequal rights under Oman's personal status law. The personal status law, interpreted from Shari'a, governs matters of the Muslim family such as inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody. Oman is one of the few remaining members of the United Nations that has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

NONDISCRIMINATION AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Oman's legal system is founded upon the Islamic Shari'a traditions of the Ibadi school. Civil, criminal, and commercial cases are handled by the courts of first instance; matters of personal status and family law fall under the jurisdiction of Shari'a courts. Although the Basic Law states that the judiciary is independent, it remains subordinate to the sultan and the ministry of justice.

The 1996 Basic Law granted citizens certain civil liberties, banned discrimination, and clarified the process for royal succession. According to Article 17 of the Basic Law, "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, origin, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile or social status."

The Basic Law, however, does not apply to or protect noncitizens from discrimination. Considering that foreign guest workers, many of whom are women, constitute over a quarter of Oman's population, many Omani residents are left without legal protections. In March 2003, Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to Sultan Qaboos requesting the government to endorse the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Although the Basic Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, women may still undergo legal and social discrimination. Oman's Shari'a courts favor men in matters of personal status, and women are legally restricted from traveling abroad without the permission of a male relative.

According to Article 12 of the Basic Law, "Justice, equality, and equality of opportunity between Omanis are the pillars of society, guaranteed by the State." Both men and women are free to appear before the courts and gain access to legal defense; however, it was only recently that a royal decree established criminal rules of procedure for criminal cases before the court, providing rules of evidence, procedures for entering cases into the criminal system, and detailing provisions for a public trial. Most Omanis remain uninformed about the new procedures. Rural women in particular do not have access to such information or legal literacy.

Oman's penal code was established in 1974 by royal decree No. 7. While women are treated equally with men in most areas of the penal code, some articles are discriminatory against women due to their gender. For example, men receive reduced sentences based on a crime's circumstances as defined in Article 252, which stipulates that a man who surprises his wife or a female relative committing adultery (in flagrante delicto) and immediately kills or injures her and/or her partner may be exempted from liability or be liable to a reduced penalty in accordance with Article 109 of this law. Article 109 of the penal code specifies that the penalty for such a crime should be applied as follows: "if the action is a felony giving rise to the capital punishment or life imprisonment it shall be reduced to prison for at least one year." Furthermore, while Omani law prohibits rape, spousal rape is not considered to be a crime.

Protections against arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile are not defined in gender-related terms within the Basic Law but rather in terms of citizenship. Article 16 of the Basic Law forbids the state to deport or exile an Omani citizen or prevent them from returning to the country. While no human rights monitoring groups are able to operate in Oman, arbitrary arrests and detentions are believed to be rare for both men and women.

Overall, few NGOs are active in Oman, and the government prohibits the establishment of human rights and women's rights NGOs. Work on women's issues is controlled by the government ministry of social development, which supports and funds the activities of the Oman Women's Association (OWA). The OWA, established in 1970, is considered the first women's organization in Oman. It now has 38 chapters and an estimated membership of more than 3,000 women. The activities of these chapters include informational lectures on health practices, kindergarten services, handicrafts training, informal advice, and support for women seeking legal actions such as divorce or suffering from domestic abuse or marriage against their will. The OWA also promotes traditional Omani customs and values.

There are also a number of government-approved women's associations, some of which are self-funded, others that receive government financial or in-kind assistance, while still others operate with membership fees, donations, and product sales. By the end of 2003, 40 nongovernmental women's associations were in operation; their goals are reportedly "to develop women's perceptions and raise their awareness in various spheres, organize charity fairs and markets, hold seminars, lectures and workshops, and set up productive projects." No international women's rights NGOs operate in Oman.

One major obstacle to the improvement of women's status in Oman is the fact that many women are not aware of their rights under the laws and are thus unable to exercise them effectively. There is an urgent need to start legal literacy programs for women, especially women in rural areas and women with low literacy so that more women can become aware of their rights and the means by which to exercise them. The small number of women lawyers is also an obstacle to women's access to justice, and the government does not facilitate the employment of women law school graduates in legal aid jobs or social justice assistance positions in rural areas.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The government should ratify CEDAW, without reservations, and take steps to implement it locally by bringing national laws into conformity with CEDAW.
  2. The government should work with NGOs to design national programs to create awareness about women's human rights protections currently available in Omani laws.
  3. The government should bring its national laws into conformity with the equality clause in the Basic Law to ensure that laws do not discriminate against women.

AUTONOMY, SECURITY, AND FREEDOM OF THE PERSON

While Islam is the state religion of Oman, Article 28 of the Basic Law guarantees freedom of religion, stating, "The freedom to practice religious rites in accordance with recognized customs is guaranteed provided that it does not disrupt public order or conflict with accepted standards of behavior." The government generally respects this right in practice, and Oman is, overall, a religiously tolerant society. While non-Muslim residents are able to practice their religious rites freely, they are required to register with the government and may not proselytize or publish religious materials. Muslim women do face some restrictions under Oman's interpretation of Islamic law, however. For example, an Omani Muslim woman is forbidden to marry a non-Muslim man, but Omani Muslim men are free to marry outside the religion.

Omani laws do not prohibit women from traveling abroad; however, women's freedom of movement is restricted in that the law requires them to have the permission of a male family member, such as a husband or father, in order to travel outside the country.

Oman's personal status law tends to favor the rights of men over the rights of women in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. However, the interpretation of the family law by Oman's individual judges may vary. Both Omani men and Omani women are required to seek the permission of the state in order to marry noncitizens. This process may include long delays and in some cases permission may be denied. Secret marriages that are not recognized by the state are occasionally performed; yet, marriages without government permission may result in the spouse being prevented from entering the country or a child from that marriage being refused citizenship. However, in general, Omani women have the right to choose their husbands and are free to accept or refuse a marriage partner suggested by their family.

Protection from slavery and slavery-like practices is guaranteed under Article 12 of the Basic Law, which states, "Every citizen has the right to engage in the work of his choice within the limits of the Law. It is not permitted to impose any compulsory work on anyone except in accordance with the Law and for the performance of public service, and for a fair wage." Although it is clear that this law is intended to apply to both citizens and noncitizens of Oman, as it refers to the illegality of imposing compulsory work on "anyone" rather than just "any citizen," in practice, this law is not always respected or fully implemented.

Employers sometimes withhold the wages or the official papers or passports of foreign workers, thus forcing them to work under slave-like conditions. Women foreign domestic workers have been known to be victims of this practice. Although foreign workers have the right to file complaints with the Labor Welfare Board against their employers for illegal practices, most workers are either unaware of their rights and protections or are fearful of losing their jobs or being deported. Oman's recent 2003 labor law defines employment conditions for some citizens and foreign workers but does not cover domestic servants, temporary workers, or those with work contracts for less than three months.

According to Article 20 of the Basic Law, "No person shall be subjected to physical or psychological torture, enticement or humiliating treatment, and the Law lays down the punishment for anyone who is guilty of such actions." There were no reports of torture or harsh and degrading punishments of either male or female Omanis during 2003. Prisons generally adhered to international standards for the treatment of prisoners. Women prisoners were estimated to comprise 5 percent of the prison population in 2000. However, it is difficult to get full information about the status of women in prisons in Oman, as no data are available and human rights monitoring groups are not permitted in the country.

Oman has no specific legislation that criminalizes domestic violence. While issues of domestic violence are not present in the media or in public reports, domestic violence does exist in Omani society at various levels. Information about domestic violence and gender-based violence outside the home is rare partly due to a complete lack of documentation processes or facilities for women to report violence in confidentiality. However, a number of cases have been filed by women victims of domestic violence in Omani courts in recent years.

Although it is widely believed in Omani society that a woman seeking legal help for domestic violence will receive support from government authorities, most women still do not report such cases. Doctors do not have a legal responsibility to report spousal abuse to the police, and battered women often prefer to seek assistance and protection from their families rather than from the police or the courts.

The ability of women's groups to advocate for women's rights in Oman is unclear. While the Basic Law grants citizens freedom of association in Article 33, it stipulates that the associations must have "legitimate objectives" that do not conflict with the aims of the Basic Law. The ambiguity of this article seems to perpetuate state control over civil society and to effectively prevent the formation of any significant opposition groups that could pose a challenge to the regime in power. However, the government has been promoting gender awareness in conferences, workshops, and communication initiatives. Through its support and funding of the Omani Women's Association, the state provides informal counseling for women with divorce-related problems and for those who might be forced to marry against their will.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The government should design programs to increase the number of women in courts as officials, judges, and lawyers.
  2. The government should provide training and guidance to medical, police, and judicial officials who handle cases of violence against women, including family violence.
  3. The government should gather statistics on violence against women and create educational campaigns aimed at raising public awareness about the problems of violence against women.
  4. The government should allow the formation of independent women's NGOs to address all women's issues freely and to work with international women's groups without government interference.

ECONOMIC RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

In 2000, Oman launched its sixth five-year plan for the economy, which emphasizes the "Omanization" of the labor force, job creation in the private sector, and more specific focus on Oman's interior regions, which continue to lag behind the coastal regions. Foreign workers constitute at least 50 percent of the work force and as much as 80 percent of the private sector work force.

A woman's right to own and dispose of her property independently is included in Article 11 of Oman's Basic Law, which declares, "Private property is protected. No one shall be prevented from disposing of his property within the limits of the Law." Nevertheless, this law is not always successfully implemented, as authorities rarely intervene in these situations, which are socially considered domestic matters. The ways in which a woman can dispense her income and assets are usually decided by the head of the household, who is traditionally a man; however, women are gaining more decision-making power within the family due to their increasing participation in the labor force and their abilities to contribute financially to the family. While women have the legal right to enter into business contracts and activities at all levels, the decision to so is also traditionally made within the family and almost never individually.

Women are not afforded equal rights with men under Oman's laws of inheritance, which are in accordance with the country's interpretation of Shari'a, as specified in Article 11 of the Basic Law. While women have the option of approaching the courts should a conflict arise over inheritance, they are often afraid to initiate a case in court, out of fear of alienating their families.

Women have made extensive gains in the field of education since the 1970s. Prior to the reign of Sultan Qaboos, girls were not able to receive an education. Equal access to education without gender discrimination is now guaranteed by law and is free of charge for all students; however, education is still not compulsory. Article 13 of the Basic Law declares, "Education is a fundamental element for the progress of society which the State fosters and endeavors to make available to all." At the elementary school level, as many girls are enrolled as boys, and at the tertiary level, there are more women than men.

Despite early efforts in the 1970s toward the education of girls and women, only 16 percent of adult women were literate in 1984. However, women's literacy rate (age 15 and above) today is 65.4 percent, an impressive gain. Women's literacy rate still falls behind that of men, however, which is 82 percent.

Women constituted 54 percent of the students entering Sultan Qaboos University in 2002. Of Omanis studying abroad, 24 percent are women. Nevertheless, while women's gains in education are impressive, they are restricted by a gender quota system applied in the higher education institutions that aims to enroll more men than women in certain disciplines such as medicine and engineering. The number of male and female students graduating from high school is about equal, but only a limited number of seats are allotted for women at professional and technical colleges. Every year, thousands of women are not able to continue their studies after high school due to these limitations. In 2000, the majority of women at the tertiary level were enrolled in the fields of arts, education, and humanities (83.1 percent of women versus 45 percent of men). No women graduated from Sultan Qaboos University with a degree in engineering in 2002. Furthermore, requirements for the admission of female students in some academic fields are more rigorous than those for male students.

Women are legally entitled to pursue the career of their choice in Oman. Article 12 of the Basic Law states, "Every citizen has the right to engage in the work of his choice within the limits of the Law." However, a woman's profession is usually decided in consultation and negotiation with her family members, such as her father, brothers, and/or husband. Women may face social obstacles if their choices are not supported by their male family members. The government does not interfere in family disputes concerning a woman's career choice, and women often must agree with the decisions of the patriarch of the family on these matters. Nevertheless, women's participation in the labor force is on the rise; the 2004 UNDP Human Development report estimated that 20 percent of Omani women are economically active.

Protections against gender-based discrimination in the labor sector are specified in Article 12 of the Basic Law, which claims that "Justice, equality, and equality of opportunity between Omanis are the pillar of society, guaranteed by the State." By law, men and women should receive equal wages for the same work, although women may not be provided with the same benefits as men, such as pensions. Men tend to collect more employment-related benefits and concessions, as they are considered to be "head of household."

The government has taken some steps to implement the law and the policy of nondiscrimination with the hiring of public sector employees. Currently, one-third of government employees in Oman are women, although few women have been appointed to high-level decision-making posts. Women are present in many private-sector companies as well, and educated women have attained positions of power and responsibility in many parts of the economy. However, many women complain of a glass ceiling with respect to promotions in employment. Omani women also face discrimination in the hiring process due to employers' fear that women employees will marry or have children and leave their jobs.

Women have some gender-specific protections in the private and public sectors such as the right to maternity leave, but they often face discrimination based on their gender within employment contracts and labor benefits. While most employers provide insurance to their workers and benefits to families of deceased male workers, equal benefits are not provided to women workers or their families. This is partly because women are not considered heads of households in Oman. Discrimination in benefits affects both citizen and noncitizen women workers who do not receive job benefits, family benefits, or insurance packages equal to those of male workers. The government of Oman has not taken any steps to eliminate this form of gender-based discrimination in the law.

In April 2003, a Labor Law went into effect that abolished a 1973 prohibition on strikes, and details the processes for dispute resolution. Under the 2003 decree, neither men nor women workers have the right to collective bargaining or to unionize, but they can select a representational committee to voice their demands and represent their interests. However, these committees are still not allowed to discuss wages, hours of work, or conditions of employment.

Oman does not have a law against sexual harassment in the workplace. Reports of the sexual and physical abuse of female domestic workers and nurses by employers and co-workers continued to emerge during 2002 and 2003, with no reported actions taken against the perpetrators of these crimes. Social pressures in Oman that place greater responsibility on women than men to uphold "proper moral behavior" often hinder women's efforts to report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women also fail to report abuse or harassment in the workplace out of fear of losing their jobs.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The government should enact laws criminalizing sexual harassment in the workplace and should establish programs to provide information and support to female victims of sexual harassment.
  2. The government should allow female workers to form unions that promote and protect their rights.
  3. The government should eliminate gender-discriminatory policies in the education sector and provide equal access, funding, and resources to higher and technical education facilities for women and men.
  4. The government should ensure that all government jobs, including the posts of judges, are open to women, and it should encourage women to enter the workforce.

POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIC VOICE

Omani men and women do not have the right to change their government democratically. They have limited rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech and do not fully participate in the political life of their country. Nevertheless, Oman is liberalizing gradually; women are beginning to play more important roles in the upper level of government, are registering to vote in large numbers, and are increasingly running as candidates in parliamentary elections. Women have also been appointed as cabinet ministers, undersecretaries of state, and ambassadors. Universal suffrage was offered for the first time to both men and women in the 2003 elections. In previous elections, only a limited number of citizens selected by tribal leaders were allowed to vote.

Women's rights to peaceful assembly and association exist within the limits of Omani law. All organized activities require prior government approval, which may or may not be given. Political parties are banned, and no activities deemed to be in opposition of the government are permitted to take place.

Article 29 of the Basic Law declares the rights of all Omanis to free speech, declaring, "Freedom of opinion and expression whether spoken, written, or in other forms, is guaranteed within the limits of the law"; however, restrictions exist in practice. Freedom of the press is restricted, and it is illegal to criticize the sultan in any form. Journalists, therefore, are known to practice self-censorship. Restrictions on freedom of expression and the press are applied equally to both men and women journalists and to activists in Oman.

Elections are held in Oman for the Majlis al-Shura, in which men and women are allowed to vote and to compete as candidates for office. The minimum voting age was lowered from 30 to 21 in the 2000 elections, and the number of women eligible to vote rose from 5,000 to 52,000 as a result. The most recent legislative elections occurred in October 2003, in which 95,000 women registered to vote. Three women served on the 12-member Main Election Committee, a committee of the Consultative Council. Out of a total of 506 contenders for the 83 seats of the Consultative Council, 15 women ran as candidates, but only 2 were elected, and both were incumbents.

Much change is still needed in social attitudes toward the role of women in positions of power. A number of Omani publications in recent years have addressed the role of women in politics and have concluded that while Muslim women can participate fully in the political affairs of the state, they should not rule.

Despite Oman's legal guarantees for equal opportunity in employment, women are not allowed to serve as judges in the country's courts. Women are represented in the civil service, however, and while still in limited numbers, also fill positions within the upper level of the government. The government is the largest employer of women; in 2002, women constituted 33 percent of civil servants. In 2003, 8 women were serving in the 57-member State Council. That same year, a woman was appointed for the first time at the ministerial rank (without portfolio) as president of the newly established Public Authority for Craft Industries. Four women were also appointed in 2003 as undersecretaries and two women as ambassadors. In addition, an Omani woman was appointed as head of the United Nations Information Centre based in Geneva in July 2003. On March 8, 2004, International Women's Day, Sultan Qaboos announced that Oman's first woman minister with a cabinet portfolio had been appointed as minister of higher education.

With regard to the right to participate in civic life issues and influence decision making, Article 34 on "Petitions, Public Affairs" does not differentiate between the rights of men and women. The article simply states, "Citizens have the right to address the public authorities on personal matters or on matters related to public affairs, in the manner and on the conditions laid down by the Law." In reality, men constitute the vast majority of policy makers in the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government. Women have just begun to play a role as decision makers on the national scene.

A member of the State Council of Oman recently proposed at a conference in the UAE on "The Parliamentary Performance of Arab Women" that a certain number of seats be reserved for women in Arab parliaments. She argued that a quota system would help Arabs view women as decision makers and help women acquire more political rights in their society. Presumably, the traditional image of women's role in Omani society would change if women were seen as leaders and decision makers. Women, therefore, could further serve as role models for the younger generations.

Women have begun to make use of their right to access and use information to empower themselves in Oman as well as share knowledge regionally. In 2003, an Organization of Arab Women was established as a specialized government agency in the League of Arab States to defend and promote the rights of Arab women. Oman was one of 11 signatories to the agreement to establish the organization.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The government should allow independent political parties to operate freely and mandate the reservation of seats in political bodies for women.
  2. The government should allow independent civil society organizations to operate freely in all parts of the country.
  3. The government should establish mechanisms to ensure that women are not discriminated against in the hiring policies of government structures and to ensure that women are promoted to senior positions within all branches of the government.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS

No laws or particular injunctions affect women's rights to make decisions about their health and reproductive rights. Women and men are legally entitled to equal access to health services, and health care is free in public hospitals. Article 12 of the Basic Law states that "The State cares for public health and for the prevention and treatment of diseases and epidemics. It endeavors to provide healthcare for every citizen."

Family planning is practiced in Oman, and a birth spacing program was initiated by the government in 1994 that aimed to educate married couples about the benefits of spacing births and its positive effects on the health of the mother, child, and family. Birth control and counseling services are free in all institutions affiliated with the ministry of health; however, abortion is illegal in Oman. Government efforts toward women's health and family planning have had direct and positive results in lowering the number of unattended births and the maternal mortality rate. ESCWA reported in 2003 that all of the urban population and 90 percent of the rural population had access to health services, and 98 percent of deliveries were attended by trained personnel. In 1993, women's fertility rate was reported at 6.9 children per mother; this rate has now dropped to 4.1.

With respect to protection from gender-based harmful traditional practices, Oman does not have any laws against female genital mutilation (FGM). While FGM is not common in Oman, some small communities, including those in the Dhofar region, still practice it. However, FGM seems to be on the decline. The government has not officially issued a ban on this practice or initiated any public education campaigns for Omani women on the dangers of FGM.

Women are not legally prevented from exercising their right to own and use housing, but social pressures and traditions often make it difficult for women to gain access to housing independently. While they are legally entitled to property and loans, government officials will often deny women housing loans or land grants due to their gender, preferring to deal with their male relatives. Older women who are illiterate also find it difficult to own property or participate in economic activities in the modern sector of the economy.

Omani women are active participants in community life and social development policies. Women have increasingly been appointed to upper-level positions in the ministries that have an impact on the country's development policies such as the ministry of social affairs, labor and vocational training; the ministry of education, which addresses Oman's school system; and the ministry of higher education, which affects the affairs of Oman's colleges and universities.

Divorced and widowed women are among the most vulnerable to poverty in Omani society. While the ministry of social development supports 50 local community development centers (LCDC) that work to improve the quality of life for families, these centers need additional support and staff training in order to be more efficient in helping women in rural areas and women throughout the country. People suffering from poverty do receive small amounts of financial aid from the ministry of social development, but it is never enough to meet their basic needs. Oman's Social Security Act covers five categories of women: widows, divorcees, abandoned women, unmarried girls, and women with a family member in prison, as well as both men and women who may be orphaned, work-disabled, or aged. In 2002, the proportion of social insurance cases and payments to women from the five designated female categories was 30 percent of total cases. Omani families tend to provide for family members who are not able to support themselves.

The Omani government prohibits the establishment of human rights NGOs and women's human rights NGOs in Oman, and there are no government-controlled or autonomous human rights organizations in the country. Although women's organizations do exist and work to provide vocational training, health care, and literacy campaigns for women, these groups do not have the authority to defend women's human rights and lack proper training and knowledge of women's rights and advocacy methods.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. The government should allow women's human rights groups to organize and advocate for women's rights.
  2. The government should design a national program that provides supportive services and income-generating training programs for women facing poverty, especially widows and unemployed women.
  3. The government should issue a law that bans female genital mutilation and initiate public education campaigns against this harmful practice.
  4. The government should set up adult literacy programs for women, especially in rural areas, that also help women to understand their rights under the law.

AUTHOR: Mary-Jane Deeb is the Head of the Near East Section at the Library of Congress and is on the faculty of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Deeb previously served as the Editor of The Middle East Journal and Director of the Omani Program at The American University in Washington, D.C. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.


NOTES

[Refworld note: source files did not contain inline references to these notes; they have been included to enable further reading and research.]

1. "The White Book: The Basic Law of the Sultanate of Oman" (Muscat: Sultanate of Oman, Ministry of Information, 1996),

2. "Letter to His Majesty Qaboos bin Said Al Said, Sultan of Oman," Human Rights News, March 2003, http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/04/gccoman.htm.

3. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2003: Oman (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2004), http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27935.htm.

4. Lynn Welchman, "Extracted provisions from the penal codes of Arab states relevant to 'crimes of honour'" (London: Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Laws [CIMEL]and International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights [INTERIGHTS], "Honour" Crimes Project: Arab Laws, http://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/Mat_ArabLaws.htm.

5. Ibid.

6. Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State, 2003).

7. "OWA Promises All Support to Women to Fulfill Dreams," Aman Daily News, 13 August 2002, http://www.amanjordan.org/english/daily_news/wmprint.php?ArtID=388.

8. Oman's response to the "Questionnaire on Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome of the Twenty-Third Special Session of the General Assembly (2000)" (Muscat: 2004), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/Review/responses/OMAN-English.pdf.

9. International Religious Freedom Report – 2003: Oman (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of State, 18 December 2003).

10. "Gender-Oman" (Beirut: UNDP Programme on Governance in the Arab Region [POGAR]), http://www.pogar.org/countries/gender.asp?cid=13.

11. Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State, 2003).

12. Ibid.

13. Prison Brief for Oman" (London: King's College London, International Centre for Prison Studies), http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/rel/icps/worldbrief/middle_east_records.php.

14. Ibid.

15. Radhika Coomaraswamy, "Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women" (Geneva: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [UNHCHR], E/CN.4/2003/75, 27 February 2003),

16. Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State, 2003).

17. Ibid.

18. "Gender-Oman" (UNDP POGAR), http://www.pogar.org/countries/gender.asp?cid=13.

19. Human Development Report 2004 (New York: United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2004).

20. "Country Profiles – 2003: Oman" (Beirut: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia [ESCWA]), http://www.escwa.org.lb/ecw/index.asp.

21. Human Development Report 2004 (UNDP, 2004).

22. Country Reports (U.S. Dept of State, 2003).

23. Ibid.

24. "Elections: Oman" (POGAR), http://www.pogar.org/countries/elections.asp?cid=13.

25. Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State, 2003).

26. See, for example, the discussion in "Al-mar'at wa al-'amal al-siyasi," in Dawr al-mar'at fi bina' al-mujtama', quoted in http://www.al-Balagh.com (in Arabic).

27. "Developments in the Situation of Arab Women" (UN ESCWA, Center for Women, April-June 2003), http://www.escwa.org.lb/ecw/index.asp.

28. "Developments in the Situation of Arab Women" (UN ESCWA, July-September 2003), http://www.escwa.org.lb/ecw/index.asp.

29. Sunil Vaidya, "Letter from Oman: Women Making Inroads into Male Domain," Gulf News, 11 March 2004.

30. "Arab Parliaments Urged to Reserve Seats for Women" (London: Women Living Under Muslim Laws [WLUML], 27 May 2004), http://wluml.org/english/newsfulltxt.shtml?cmd[157]=x-157-51393.

31. "Getting the Balance Right in National Parliaments" (New York: Women's Environment and Development Organization [WEDO]), http://www.wedo.org/5050/5050factsheet4.pdf.

32. "Developments in the Situation of Arab Women," (UN ESCWA).

33. Oman's response to the "Questionnaire to Governments ..." (Muscat, 2004).

34. "Country Profiles – 2003: Oman" (ESCWA), http://www.escwa.org.lb/ecw/index.asp.

35. Oman's response to the "Questionnaire to Governments ..." (Muscat, 2004).

36. "2003 World Population Data Sheet" (Washington, D.C.: Population Reference Bureau, 2003).

37. "Integration of the Human Rights of Women ..." (UNHCHR),

38. Country Reports (U.S. Dept of State).

39. Ibid.

40. Oman's response to the "Questionnaire to Governments ..." (Muscat, 2004).

41. Country Reports (U.S. Dept of State).

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