Domestic violence against women in Oman:
legal, social and regulatory considerations
Domestic violence and Omani society
Violence in general is rationalised and accepted in many Eastern societies. It is deeply ingrained in the culture and virtually a way of life in some places, including Oman. Corporal punishment is also seen as a legitimate method of disciplining children; in fact Article 44 of the Omani Penal Code justifies and permits violence against children if disciplinary in intent, stating: “It shall be deemed enjoyment of a right when parents and those in loco parentis chastise under-age children within the limits recognised by Sharia or statute law.”
Violence against women is rationalised and permitted too, both by a society that accepts the beating of children and women and also in Sharia law, which allows husbands to “beat” their wives to discipline them. Violence against women is not limited to beatings by male family members but forms a chain of events starting from their earliest years and continuing into their married lives as follows:
- Female genital mutilation (FGM): Despite the passing of a law banning the crime of FGM in Oman in October 2019, experts believe it is still widely practised against large numbers of women and girls. Neither government agencies nor civil society groups are doing enough to make this law more effective by means of consciousness-raising among individuals in the community and putting in place monitoring mechanisms to call to account any individual or institution committing this crime in breach of the new law.
- Physical and psychological abuse by male (and female) family members: Many women in Oman suffer various kinds of abuse such as verbal abuse, the use of derogatory racial terms, and being prevented from taking decisions about further education or their working lives (some families only let women work in a limited range of jobs that do not require contact with the opposite sex), as well as various forms of physical violence that often lead to suicide attempts.
- Marital rape: In Oman’s conservative and strictly moralistic society there is a general taboo on talking about sexual matters in relation to women. This has the negative effect of leaving women unaware of their physical rights. Omani society in fact excuses and allows marital rape, and sees wives as being obliged to submit to their husbands’ desires; to do otherwise is to go against the customs and traditions of society. This community attitude is based on Islamic Sharia laws that frequently justify the crime of marital rape and deny wives the right to abstain from sexual intercourse with their husbands, referring to them in the most callous terms.
Domestic violence against women in Omani law, and the government’s handling of the issue
It must be emphasised that nowhere in Omani legislation is violence against women made a crime (except now the law criminalising FGM). Nor is there any legal prohibition on marital rape.
Recommendations for tackling domestic violence against women:
- Criminalise all violence against women by their fathers, guardians or husbands.
- Recognise and criminalise marital rape.
- Abolish all forms of guardianship over women beyond the age of 17 or 18.
- Abolish the system of going-out permits and permissions for girls at boarding schools.
- Designate a non-governmental body to act as a hub for receiving, dealing with and sheltering victims of family violence.
- Repeal all laws that are not compatible with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). One such law is that imposing the requirement of a male guardian’s permission for a woman to marry, rather than her being able to marry whoever she wishes. Another example is the ability of a husband to divorce his wife in court on the basis of the racially discriminatory Islamic principle of “compatibility of lineage”, which makes the husband of lower social status than his wife and allows him on these grounds to forcibly divorce her by means of judicial decrees that cite religious texts to justify the crime.
- Revise and update school curricula to present women as essential partners in building society.
- Change the stereotype of women that portrays them as fit only for childrearing and housework.
- Set up an independent commission with regulatory powers to protect women who have suffered violence at the hands of their husbands or other family members.
- Establish shelters for victims of domestic and family violence.