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Women in Oman

Local Omani women (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP)

Omani women have always played an important role in traditional society and economy. Modern developments in Oman have contributed to gender equality. Females and males enjoy the same level of life expectancy and education. In modern society, the female economic participation rate is increasing rapidly, from 8.6 percent in 1993 to 29.6 percent in 2011.

The main causes of women’s ascendancy in the economy are increased education, changing attitudes in society, changing consumption patterns and the need to improve family income. Age is also a factor. More young women are choosing to work. Over two-thirds of women employed in the private sector are between 20 and 29 years of age. They predominantly opt for the sectors of financial brokerage and real estate services. A positive relationship exists between economic participation rates and educational status.

Women in the public sector

In the public sector, women held 47 percent of the positions in 2012 (NCSI). There is a preference for jobs in the education sector, with an increasing interest in the health sector. In the ranks of senior government positions, two women hold positions at the ministerial level, one at the undersecretary level and two at ambassadorial level. Four hold senior advisory positions, thirteen in Special Grade, and 261 in Grade One (equivalent to Director & Director General). Five female lawyers were recently appointed as attorney generals to the legislative court. Moreover, a law providing women equal rights to own housing property ensured gender equality for women.

Equal opportunities

Since 1994, Omani women are allowed to run for election. All present laws and regulations propagate equal opportunities for women. For example, maternity leave before and after birth is set at fifty fully paid days. Mothers who return to work while continuing to breast feed are permitted to leave work an hour earlier for six months. Women also have the right to unpaid leave for twelve months after having given birth. The Islamic Sharia personal law allows women to provide for the right to divorce in marriage contracts. It is also customary in Arab societies that earnings of women accrue to their own wealth.

The National Health Survey (NHS, 2000) interviewed women about their freedom of movement. 30 percent of the women said they enjoyed total freedom. Freedom of movement significantly increases with age. Results of the survey also indicated that women’s empowerment is directly linked to their level of education. The higher the education, the more decision power and freedom of movement women have. Women tend to pursue higher education levels before marriage, as a result of which marriage is often postponed. In 1993, 52 percent of girls between fifteen and twenty years were married. In 2003, this number was just 4.2 percent. (Gender Index).

Within the family, women have significant authority and make strong contributions. However, although women enjoy equal rights in education and employment, they participate less in public life. The government subsequently launched the 2010 OMANIWOMEN campaign in acknowledgement and celebration of Omani women’s achievements and in order to increase awareness of their oppurtunities. But there are signs that women are still being discriminated when it comes to legal and social issues and that equality only applies to Omani women, not to foreign workers.

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