International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the achievements of women in areas such as politics and economics. Various women’s organisations started marking Women’s Day with marches and rallies on this date back in the early 20th century, and in 1975 the United Nations endorsed March 8 as an International Day for Women.
Some observers consider women in Oman to enjoy greater rights and privileges than in other Arab countries. In reality, and indeed in law, they are much like women elsewhere in the Arab world, in that they do not have gender equality and the same rights and privileges as men.
In this short briefing the Omani Centre for Human Rights would like to draw attention to a number of points that represent a challenge to or violation of women’s rights in Oman.
Women in Oman still face many more restrictions than men since the country’s laws, based on Islamic Sharia law, give men higher status and more rights than women.
Article 17 of Oman’s Basic Statute (constitution) prohibits gender-based discrimination, but there are parts of laws like the Personal Status Law and the Omani Penal Code that violate women’s rights.
Although Article 7 of the Personal Status Law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, Article 10 of the same law allows judges to authorise the marriage of underage girls if this is deemed to be in their best interests.
Women, incidentally, are not allowed to work as judges.
A man has the right to be married to four women at the same time, according to the Personal Status Law, while a woman’s duties to her husband include obeying his wishes. Since women have a duty to follow their husbands’ wishes there is no statutory punishment for, or even legal definition of, marital rape in Oman.
A mother is unable to obtain official documents relating to her children, such as passports or identity cards, unless authorised by the father, whereas the father is able to obtain them without her.
Mothers are denied custody of their children in the case of divorce.
At boarding schools for girls the students’ movements are restricted. Girls are not allowed in or out without permission from their legal guardian – and according to the Personal Status Law a guardian has to be male.
Girls and young women have no protection from domestic violence in Oman. Article 44 of the Omani Penal Code even states that an act of violence toward an underage child “shall not be deemed a crime” so long as it is “committed in good faith”.
Although Oman signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2006, it maintains reservations to a number of its provisions, such as the paragraph granting women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children, which would mean giving an Omani woman the right to pass on her citizenship to her children if she is married to a non-Omani.
There are many obstacles and legal complications for an Omani woman marrying a non-Omani man, whereas Omani men marrying non-Omani women enjoy certain advantages that make the process relatively easy for them. Yet both men and women suffer the most blatant violation of their rights when it comes to marrying someone who is not an Omani citizen. Furthermore, women do not have the right to marry without permission of a male guardian, while men do not need such permission to get married.
Men have the right to divorce their wives at any time without needing to give a reason, while women have to provide a justification for seeking divorce, such as the husband being absent for a specified period of time, or else it will not be granted. Women, moreover, are often treated harshly in the courts by judges and subjected to humiliation and verbal abuse under various pretexts, such as attempts to bring about a reconciliation or avoid depriving children of their fathers.
Although the country’s Child Protection Law criminalises female genital mutilation and imposes a punishment for it, representatives of the official religious establishment in Oman, such as the Grand Mufti, continue to consider it lawful and even encourage it, without any intervention by the government.
The laws of Oman, and those responsible for them, do not respect women’s rights and continue to violate them. Their excuse is always that the CEDAW provisions to which Oman has reservations conflict with Sharia law, and fail to take account of the “special characteristics” of Muslim society arising from it.
Join us in helping to strengthen women’s rights in Oman. Send us examples of the laws containing the worst violations of women’s rights that you think are in vital and urgent need of abolition or amendment.