In 1993 the UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which defined violence against women as:
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The United Nations subsequently designated 25 November of each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and 2008 saw the launch of the UN Secretary-General’s “UNiTE” initiative, which sought to mobilise the international community, at both grassroots and official levels, to end violence against women.
The theme chosen for 2020’s International Day was “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!” and set out to champion women’s issues, foremost among them violence, by calling for all parties, from community groups to national governments, to work together to stamp out this violence. The campaign ran for 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December, which is International Human Rights Day.
The United Nations says that violence against women takes the following physical, sexual and psychological forms:
- intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide);
- sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber-harassment);
- human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation);
- female genital mutilation; and
- child marriage.
Let’s look now at the forms of violence against women in Oman, and at the laws that sanction or defend it.
Intimate partner (husband) violence:
- Women in Oman are not adequately protected by the law. Violence against wives is often regarded as lawful conduct.
- The law does not criminalise marital rape (a man having sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent). The failure to pass legislation making marital rape a crime is partly due to a lack of societal awareness and knowledge on the subject.
- So-called ‘honour’ crimes are treated leniently in Oman.
Sexual violence and harassment:
- Forced marriage.
- Cyber-harassment: Unfortunately, the legal authorities in Oman usually place the blame on women if it is found that they are being blackmailed, since according to the Omani Cybercrime Law women have to bear any negative consequences if they are found to have willingly sent “indecent” images.
- Likewise, the revised Omani Penal Code fails to provide safeguards to prevent domestic violence and control violent behaviour by parents towards their children. Article 44 states that this “shall not be deemed a crime” if carried out “in good faith in enjoyment of a lawful right” such as when “parents or those in loco parentis chastise underage children, within the limits recognised by Sharia or statute law”.
Housemaids in Oman suffer multiple abuses and violence at the hands of their sponsors. The sponsor may withhold their passports and other personal documents. Housemaids are often transferred from sponsor to sponsor without their having any say in the matter. Despite repeated incidents of sexual harassment and domestic violence against housemaids, the government has still not taken any serious measures to tackle it, such as setting up a telephone helpline or banning the withholding of personal documents.
Female genital mutilation (FGM):
Although Omani law criminalises FGM (sometimes inaccurately called “female circumcision”) in both government and private healthcare settings, the practice remains widespread in the community, with the apparent blessing of the country’s senior religious authority. The Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalili, once said in an interview that circumcision is a pre-Islamic custom that was religiously sanctioned at the time of the patriarch Abraham, and was also endorsed by the Prophet Muhammad. Women’s “circumcision”, the Grand Mufti said, did not violate their bodily integrity but rather helped to preserve the conjugal relationship between them and their husbands; and that although it was not obligatory, it was good for them to have it done.
Article 7 of Oman’s Personal Status Law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years, but Article 10 of the same law allows judges to approve the marriage of underage girls if this is in their best interests.