March 8 is celebrated as the International Women's Day every year. The theme for the 2023 International Women's Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. Equity is different from equality – let’s see how.
Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.
Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
Within this context, let’s delve into the lives of a group of people who form an important part of the expat community in Oman – the trailing expat wives.
The term 'trailing spouse' has its origins in 1981 in the Wall Street Journal. It refers to the partner, typically a wife, of a person who moves overseas for work. While there are trailing husbands as well, for a large part, in the GCC, it is usually the wife who trails the husband as he moves for a job opportunity.
When an expat family moves to a new country, they are leaving behind everything that they are familiar with, in the pursuit of better career prospects, money and comforts for the family. As the husband is busy settling into a new job, in a new country – the wife often finds herself on an island of her own.
For the world outside, it looks like the trailing expat wives are at an enviable position. They can rest easy, spending their days at brunches and salons, while their husbands are hard at work.
Where’s the need for equity, when they already have so much privilege? But there are always two sides to any story.
Loss of identity
“When we decided to move to Oman, I was so excited… my husband had a great opportunity, we would lead a luxurious life, in a beautiful and peaceful country,” says an expat wife, who did not wish to be named. “I was initially happy to take a break from work, and focus on setting up our home. But after a few months it wasn’t enough. I realized that a large part of my identity and self-worth was linked to my career, and without that I felt lost. Although my husband never made me feel inadequate, I personally felt bad being economically dependent on him. I felt so much envy towards expat women who seemed to have it all together – friends, kids, careers and live-in household help.”
Another young expat, Annette Thomas, who moved to Oman in 2020 says, “When we moved here, my son was a 6 months old. And then the pandemic hit. My husband didn’t have the option to work from home, so it was just me and my son alone at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to have meaningful conversations. So when the lockdowns began lifting, I did my best to socialize and make new friends. I hosted brunches for my neighbors, Christmas parties and playdates.”
Neha Gattani, an Indian expat says, “I appreciate the safety and beauty of Oman. The pristine beaches, the golden deserts and the hiking trails – there’s so much to explore here. I am also happy to say that I have a terrific set of friends here. I do wish there were more career opportunities for expat women in engineering and technical professions. We do understand the constraints of Omanisation, but I hope that soon there’s an economic boom which expands the job markets much further.”
So, where does #embracingequity fit into all of this?
There are thousands of smart, driven and productive expat wives who would love to just step out of their homes and be part of a community.
Equity - for them - means access for platform in keeping their abilities, without affecting local employment or making policy changes.
• Employers who bring expats into the country can help facilitate social gatherings for their employees’ families.
• Schools can offer forums where mothers can participate in improving educational policies.
• A great idea for a start-up would be an aggregator for volunteers, where expat wives can register themselves for volunteer work in different areas.
• Support groups with weekly meet-ups for expat women can help them talk through their anxieties.
So on this International Women’s Day, let us go beyond high-achievers and acknowledge all kinds of women who make up the world.