Need to create space for women in higher political and professional positions in Oman?
October 1, 2016 | 9:04 PM
by Saleh Shaibany
Omani women often find themselves sidelined despite the fact that they have taken major strides when it comes to education in the last four decades. Oman's first woman pilot Azza Said Al Zakwani. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Photo - shutterstock

Omani women often find themselves sidelined despite the fact that they have taken major strides when it comes to education in the last four decades.

Demographically, women now outnumber men in Oman as the latest statistics indicate that women have a slight majority of 51 per cent compared to men.

When it comes to the education system, about 65 per cent of the total secondary school graduates are female students who joined various degree courses in colleges and universities.

Perhaps the drawback in the workforce is not that women do not get a chance in education but that they don’t make it in large number to the workplaces.

Less than 25 per cent of the total workforce in the private sector comprises women. That means about 30 per cent of these educated women do not pursue a career after graduation, instead opting to marry and become home makers.

The well known Omani adage that “a woman’s work is at home” rings true in this respect.

Very few of those who join the workforce reach management positions, but even when they do, they are sidelined when it comes to climbing the ladder further.

Most opt for teaching jobs, managing front desks, promotions, sales, clerical or administrative work at minor level.

Notwithstanding that they comprise half the population,women still miss out on political representation. Only one woman is serving in the current session of the Majlis Al Shura.

At any time, the highest number of women who ever served in any single Shura Council was two, and that too was back in the 1990s. The assembly is 84 strong.

Women have repeatedly asked for a quota that would assure them a fixed number of representatives in the Majlis Al Shura but that has not happened yet. It is not an unreasonable demand since many other countries have a similar system. Some argue that quotas were not democratic but then a heavily male dominated parliament cannot be termed as good for democracy, either.

Women’s issues are ignored politically and socially, and they also remain a disadvantaged group professionally.

There cannot be an idea of equal rights to all in a country if half of its population goes unrepresented. Women are wondering if male bigotry will always be prevalent and standing in their way to independence.

But it is not just independence that is at stake for them but their legitimacy as citizens to make changes and ensure their voices are heard.

The harshest truth for them is that they know where they stand as of now. Their battle is not even half way but they know they are going to be in it for quite a long time until they get the recognition they deserve.

Perhaps their legitimacy mainly hinges on the new generation which is much more educated than their parents and has more fire in them to make themselves heard.

Perhaps the older generation of the 80s gave up too soon because they blamed the men for blocking their way to the top. Young women of today do not choose that path. They don’t even collide head on with men. Instead, they rely on their resources to prove they are worth the top jobs on their own merit.

However, it will not be smooth sailing even now for the new generation. Indeed, they have honed their ways of getting there, though they are having to chart the same stormy waters but are using a more resilient vessel to get to the other side.

With the new momentum gathering pace, women would like to send a message that men’s dominance in the political and professional arenas will soon be over for good.

That will pave the way for a true equal opportunity society in the Sultanate.

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