Conditions of Women
Oman is one of the more progressive states in the Gulf region in the area of women’s rights. Since the 1970s, the Omani government has actively promoted female education with impressive results. Women have the right to vote and run for office in elections. Female participation in the workforce remains low and areas of discrimination persist, but Oman stands out as a model for other countries in the Gulf. All present laws and regulations in Oman give equal opportunities to women in trade, labor, civil service and social insurance.
The parliamentary elections in October 2003 were the first in which women were free to participate without restrictions. About 95,000 women registered to vote of a total of 262,000 registered voters, up from 5,000 registered female voters in the 2000 elections. Despite increased participation, Omani women failed to increase their representation in Oman's Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shoura). Expectations before the elections were high that more women would be elected to the consultative council, but none of the 13 first-time female candidates won. The two female incumbents were both re-elected, however.
Female education has dramatically reduced illiteracy. In 1970, there were no schools for girls in the country. By 1984, 84% of adult women were still illiterate. As of 2002, that has been reduced to 34.6%. Although high illiteracy remains a national problem, women have achieved gender parity with men in education. By 1997-1998, half of enrolled students were girls. Still, only 64% of girls and 65% of boys were enrolled in primary education in 2000. A gender quota system has been established in higher education, which accounts for male and female dominated disciplines.
Law of Personal Status
Women’s personal status is dictated by Islamic law. In Oman, the law requires that women have the permission of a father, husband, or male family member to travel outside the country. Women receive less inheritance than their male relatives. Oman ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996.
Currently, eight women serve in the Council of State (Majlis Ad-Dawla), appointed by Sultan Qaboos. The first female ambassador was appointed to the Netherlands in September 1999. Sultan Qaboos appointed Rawya bint Saud al-Bousaidi as Minister for Higher Education, making her the first female minister in Oman’s history. Approximately 20% of civil servants are women, with 13% of senior management positions held by females.
The increased education of women has yet to be utilized in Oman’s economy. In 2000, 17% of the workforce consisted of women. Some women have achieved professional level positions in government, business, and the media. Gender discrimination is prohibited in the workplace and the law provides for equal pay for equal work, but woman have encountered discrimination with respect to promotions. Additionally, government officials have shown gender bias in the distribution of land grants and loans. Women in the public and private sectors are granted 40 days of paid maternity leave.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Though Oman has made tremendous strides in promoting women’s rights, it has not signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women as of March 2004.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, and Vocational Training is responsible for women issues at the governmental level. The Ministry supports women's affairs by funding and supporting the Oman Women's Association (OWA) and grassroots women organizations. The OWA has 23 chapters all over the country with a membership of 3,000 women. Typical OWA activities include sponsoring health or sociological lectures, kindergarten services, and handicraft training programs. The OWA provides services such as teaching and kindergarten, but also provides an informal counseling and support role for women with divorce-related difficulties, girls forced to marry against their will, and women and girls suffering from domestic abuse. There are also 50 affiliated groups throughout the country that work to improve the status of women and their contributions to society.