25 November: Omani Women on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Despite global efforts to promote human rights and gender equality, violence against women remains an obstacle to social progress and human development. Although feminist campaigns like the “Me Too” movement and the United Nations “Orange the World” theme have encouraged many women to speak out against sexual harassment and gender-based violence, many more are still forced to remain silent about the abuses they suffer, whether to avoid social stigma or because of a lack of government support and deterrent measures.
In 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and in 2000 it designated 25 November as an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. According to the UN, 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.
The World Health Organisation estimates that about one in three women worldwide have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, acknowledges a need for stronger support of the monitoring bodies mandated to implement the commitments on gender equality, the empowerment of women and the elimination of all forms of violence against women. She also points to new and emerging forms of violence, such as online violence against women, violence against women in politics and during elections, and mistreatment and violence against women during childbirth.
Oman signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discriminations against Women (CEDAW) in 2005, but made reservations about certain of its provisions, including those concerning the passing on of a woman’s nationality to her children. It also made reservations over provisions allowing UN mechanisms to investigate the extent of member states’ compliance with the Convention and to look into complaints from individuals that the Convention protects.
Oman still has a long way to go to eliminate violence against women in all its forms. Domestic violence tops the list of violations against women in Oman, where violence against women has still not been defined in law. While women may be physically, sexually, emotionally and economically abused, the legal establishment does not recognise such violations, and provides women with no protection against them. On the contrary, the authorities consider such things “family matters”, and there is neither a law against family violence nor a hotline for reporting abuse or shelters for victim protection.
Many women and girls have reported a lack of response from local authorities such as the police when they have reported violence within the family, and the police have declined to protect the victims, such violence being seen as a “family issue”. Sometimes the police make the perpetrator sign an undertaking not to molest the victim any further, which not only does no good but may also place the victim at risk of further violence if her abuser is angry with her for reporting it to the authorities.
Also in Oman:
- Sexual and reproductive rights are violated, and abortion criminalised, by law. Without the protection of law for their right either to have or to refuse an abortion, women come under social pressure to continue a pregnancy regardless of how it came about, including by means of other violations such as rape. Articles 315 and 316 of the Omani Penal Code make abortion by any means a crime punishable by between six months and three years in prison (less if the woman is turning to abortion “out of shame”) both for the woman and anyone facilitating the procedure. Safe abortions are even more harshly penalised, since the penalty is increased to between three and five years if the procedure is carried out by a member of the medical profession.
- Large groups of Omani women are not assured of their right to freedom of movement, the most glaring example being university students who are prevented from leaving their dormitories by a system of “permissions”. Generally speaking, women and girls in Oman are forced to remain within the confines of their homes as a result of social customs and the prevailing system of patriarchal authority. The Omani government completely ignores this situation and makes no effort to embed the values of freedom and gender equality in the community. Housemaids constitute another group of women denied the freedom to leave the home, as well as not being given clearly defined and specified time off work.
- Marital rape is not defined in law, and there are no mechanisms for protecting women and girls from sexual violence. Indeed there are no comprehensive data on the extent of rape and sexual harassment in Omani society.
- Although the minimum legal age for marriage in Oman is 18, Article 10 of the Personal Status Law says underage girls can be married “if a judge considers that in their best interests”.
- Women’s right to divorce is not guaranteed in law. In court, women are often treated harshly and verbally abused by judges, in keeping with the social stigma attaching to divorced women in Oman. The legal and social obstacles to divorce for women lead to many of them, and their children, continuing to live wretchedly in a poisonous atmosphere without any protection or emotional and practical support.
Many women are subjected to violence in their homes, their workplaces, and even public spaces. Yet more worrying still are attempts to silence and discredit women, so that perpetrators go unpunished.
The Omani Centre for Human Right calls on the Omani government to take all necessary measures to address the problem, starting by nullifying or abrogating laws that violate women’s rights, or drawing up new laws to protect women from violence, such as a law against domestic violence; criminalising marital rape; and finally ending all underage marriage. It also incumbent on the state to give immediate protection to all women who report violence against them, by detaining the accused and providing safe houses for the victims. It should also work, by means of public education, to increase awareness of the misconceptions behind some customs and traditions that devalue women. It is also important to set up a comprehensive database to ascertain the extent of domestic violence, underage marriage and marital rape, to pave the way for dealing with these abuses and measuring the progress made.