Equal rights for women and implementation of the CEDAW – Ahmad Al-Mukhaini

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    Ahmad Al-Mukhaini*

    November 2017

     

    A brief overview of general policy constraints standing in the way of equal rights for women and implementation of the CEDAW Convention and national legislation in Oman

    Introduction

     

    The aim of this briefing is to explain some of the general policy constraints that may stand in the way of realising equal rights for women in practice, and that may hinder effective implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and national legislation that on the whole has tried to offer women opportunities on a basis of equality with men and give effect to Article 17 of the Basic Statute of the State.

     

    ‘Equal rights for women’ is used here to mean their enjoyment of a quality of life on equal terms with men within society, and their equality in terms of rights as well as obligations and responsibilities, at all levels and in such a way as to ensure that they enjoy the political, civil and economic rights of citizenship.  This briefing will not provide a statistical analysis or description of the position of women in the Sultanate; that would entail much further research.

     

    Notwithstanding the above, it is generally held to be the case that there exists a wide gap between, on the one hand, the laws of the country and the directives of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and, on the other, the way these are interpreted and implemented in practice.  These inconsistencies therefore need to be highlighted and resolved by creating mechanisms to ensure the rule of law and sovereignty of the Basic Statute of the State.

     

    It is essential to point out that this brief overview is not itself attempting to formulate action plans or interventions, as these are things that should be arrived at by means of national accord and planning mechanisms based on a human rights-based approach (HRBA).  It does, however, seek to highlight some of the policy constraints involved, with a view to enhancing national action and improving the quality of discussions aimed at translating into practice the political support enjoyed by women in Oman from His Majesty the Sultan.  It also seeks to inform the debate that is likely to arise in the course of discussion of the second and third Oman Country Reports on the implementation status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

     

    This briefing paper is divided into three concise parts, the first dealing with the constitutional, legal and conceptual framework on which it is based; the second looking at some of the main general policy constraints that lie at the root of women’s, or gender, issues in Oman; and the third considering some outstanding issues from a CEDAW perspective, with proposals for resolving them and turning them into national success stories.

     

     

    The constitutional and legal framework

     

    As a constitutional and legal framework, this briefing has taken two main documents: (a) the Basic Statute of the State of Oman, promulgated by Royal Decree No. 101/1996 (with particular reference to the Articles highlighted below), and (b) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (referred to hereinafter as CEDAW, or the Convention).

     

    With reference to the Basic Statute, this paper focuses on the following Articles:

     

    1. Article 9, which stipulates that governance in the Sultanate shall be based upon justice, shura (consultation) and equality, and that the citizens, pursuant to the Basic Statute and the conditions and provisions prescribed by the law, shall have the right to participate in public affairs;
    2. Article 10, ‘Political Principles’, particularly para. 4, requiring the establishment of a sound administrative system that guarantees justice, tranquillity and equality for the citizens;
    3. Article 11, ‘Economic Principles’, particularly the first paragraph, which stipulates that the national economy is based on justice and the principles of free economy;
    4. Article 12, ‘Social Principles’;
    5. Article 13, ‘Cultural Principles’; and
    6. Article 17, which stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law and share the same public rights and obligations; there shall be no discrimination amongst them in that respect on grounds of gender, origin, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status.

     

    Meanwhile, with reference to the CEDAW Convention, this paper has taken as its starting point Royal Decree No. 42/2005, whereby the Sultanate of Oman affirmed its ratification of the Convention, with four reservations.  The paper has also drawn on the discussions that took place at the drafting stage of the first CEDAW Oman Country Report, the debate on the first CEDAW Oman Country Report, and the concluding remarks of the United Nations CEDAW Committee published on November 21, 2011, in addition to the draft second and third Country Reports that have been submitted to the UN CEDAW Committee, and some queries arising about them.

     

     

    The conceptual framework

     

    This paper has essentially adopted the key concepts and working approach found in the CEDAW Convention, while naturally taking account of the specific cultural, political and social features of Oman.  In addition, it has drawn for this purpose on the following reference sources:

     

    1. The published literature on equality and equal opportunities from a gender perspective dealing with international treaties and programmes of work relating to women and social policy, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Millennial Development Goals and the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, as well as the work of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, focusing on the practical steps and national mechanisms used to deliver the desired objectives of these treaties and programmes.
    2. The National Human Development Reports published successively in 2003 and 2012, which discussed the status of women and emphasised the importance of strengthening their role and participation in economic and human development.
    3. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report on national mechanisms for promoting gender equality in the ESCWA region.
    4. The working papers and recommendations of the Omani Women’s Seminar in Saih al-Makarem in Oman (2009).

     

     

    Policy and planning constraints

     

    On the basis of the above, this section will look at the main challenges, issues and difficulties that jeopardise the position of women in Oman or present obstacles to their enjoyment of a quality of life on equal terms with men within society, from a gender and CEDAW perspective.  It can be said from the outset that the main policy constraints regarding women’s enjoyment of their rights and improvements to their quality of life include the following:

     

    • The failure to incorporate gender considerations in public policy-making, linked with the absence of a clear overarching national policy making it obligatory to incorporate gender considerations in planning and implementation, and a failure to base the existing planning approach on human rights when formulating plans, interventions and service programmes. This removes the possibility of a gender-based and human rights approach becoming institutionalised and sustainable; undermines the chances of those due to benefit from these plans, interventions and programmes doing so; and reduces the likelihood of their achieving the desired effect.

     

    One concrete example of the failure to incorporate a gender perspective in development is the absence of gender-based discourse in national policies, plans and laws, and in national debate.  It is seen as sufficient to bring women into certain areas or at specific stages to consider whether these policies, plans or laws meet women’s needs, which is a completely different matter from taking a gender-based view.  Furthermore, the limited national expertise in gender issues is readily apparent, as well as the limited facilities to help empower women and support them in employment and economic and intellectual participation, and sometimes also the shortage of data in Oman in terms of gender needs at the detailed level of provinces and conurbations.

     

    In addition to this, over the past five years women’s involvement in planning and policy-making has diminished, which has meant the absence of a female perspective on development and no points of reference on gender that might ensure sustainability.  This can be seen in the Sultanate’s official statistics, which show a decline in women’s share of senior and mid-level planning and administrative positions in the government sector in Oman.

     

    Steps that could usefully be taken to address this:

     

    (1)     Establish an overarching national policy to incorporate gender considerations in public policy and legislation.  The Council of Ministers will then have to draw up guidance to help all sectors to apply this overarching national policy.  This guidance will also have to provide specific planning and implementation tools for all sectors.  Since the policy would be part of a general directive of the State to adopt a human rights-based approach to planning, if this proved difficult a start could be made by applying just a gender-based approach.

     

    (2)     This will necessitate two things: (1) excellent coordination and cooperation between the various state agencies and sectors, as the gender perspective is not confined to any one sector; and (2) broad capacity building at both national and local level in the various regions and sectors, because there is a strong correlation between decentralisation and success in incorporating gender considerations in development.

     

    (3)     Following on from this, the overarching national policy will have to create structural arrangements to encourage and ensure compliance, together with performance indicators and procedures for monitoring and evaluation.

     

    2)  The low level of awareness of women’s rights among women themselves and in society, which implies three things: (1) women have a limited awareness of human rights in general, and women’s rights and obligations in particular; (2) society has a limited awareness of its civil rights and obligations; and (3) there is nothing linking rights and obligations with development and the role of the community in development sustainability.

     

    As a result, there has been no institutionalisation of women’s rights, despite Oman’s ratification of the CEDAW Convention, and the causal relationship between women being able to enjoy their rights and being empowered to achieve high national levels of social and economic development, family cohesion and sustainability remains blurred.  This also has an impact on two other things: women’s self-confidence, and society’s confidence in women, two important factors in women reaching decision-making positions and through them making a clear impact.

     

    Steps that could usefully be taken to address this:

     

    (1) Carry out comprehensive and continuous awareness-raising programmes and campaigns as part of a national plan to deepen women’s awareness in particular, and that of society generally, of women’s rights and their connection with various approaches to development, while also deepening society’s civic awareness of its rights and obligations.  The plan should involve all active parties, and target the groups most susceptible to exploitation or to having their rights trampled on.

     

    (2) Compile statistics and devise composite indicators to quantify the link between empowering women and national successes in the areas of economic, social and intellectual development, sustainability and combating corruption.

     

    (3) Broaden efforts to train and develop the skills of women by: (1) identifying training and skills needs and linking these with projects or initiatives that will measure the effectiveness of training and skills programmes in meeting women’s needs, and their impact on the community; (2) mobilising civil society to play its part in this; and (3) using modern information and communications technology, while taking advantage of the national Digital Oman Strategy.

     

    (4) The steps outlined above will call for national capacity building and the involvement of young volunteers, male and female.

     

    3)  A reliance on services provided by government agencies, which entrenches dependency and places a heavy burden on government while at the same time weakening the effectiveness of civil society, whether in terms of voluntary service or of strengthening civil society institutions or of accepting the idea of civil society’s participation in development.

     

    Steps that could usefully be taken to address this:

     

    (1) Carry out awareness-raising and media programmes as part of a national plan aiming, first of all, to change the image decision-makers have of the respective roles of government and civil society and their relationship to development; and secondly, to raise public awareness of civil society’s importance as an active party in development, and the importance of engaging with it and having oversight of it; and thirdly, to change the narrow or lackadaisical thinking of some civil society institutions and the initiatives they carry out in Oman.

     

    (2) Provide a healthier working environment for civil action by amending the laws and reducing the sometimes suffocating degree of oversight of civil society institutions, and by diversifying civil society and creating genuine partnerships between it and the public and private sectors.

     

    (3) Continue to promote civil society, as individuals and as institutions, by means of training, skills development and encouragement.

     

    4)  A divergence between written policy and legislation and its application in practice, which to a large extent results from the failure to incorporate gender considerations in policy and legislation and from the low level of awareness of women’s rights among women themselves and in society, not to mention the patriarchal or male-dominated thinking that afflicts the mindset of some government bodies, and views women in a way that is patronising or inappropriate to the levels of human development Oman has attained.

     

    What makes the problem more acute is the traditional stereotype of women and their role in society that is so prevalent (among women as well as men) as to have become accepted as an unshakeable truth, of which some women are unconsciously convinced.  This was clearly apparent from the views of some female candidates in the Majlis elections, and from discussions with women in the community.  To make matters worse, asserting or demanding rights, or reporting any violation of them, is associated with the social concept of shame.  This diminishes the role of the state of institutions and the rule of law, which represent the two main anchors for successfully implementing the CEDAW Convention and guaranteeing comprehensive and sustainable development.  This in turn makes the problem mentioned earlier, of the gap between legislation and its application, all the more difficult to resolve.

     

    In addition to the interventions proposed above for dealing with the first and second policy constraints, one step that could usefully be taken to address the gap between policy and law on paper and in practice would be to introduce national mechanisms for seeking justice from bodies implementing laws and policies where there is a failure to comply with their requirements, or the impression is given of injustice taking place or some form of discrimination being practised against women, and this affecting their enjoyment of the rights prescribed in the policies and legislation or interfering with the exercising of these rights.  Care should be taken to ensure that:

     

    –  these mechanisms apply across all parts of the Sultanate and are easily accessible;

    –  women (or the representatives of women) complaining of injustice are granted privacy and confidentiality; and

    –  these mechanisms are not managed and overseen by the executive branch of government but by the representative/legislative branch.

     

     

    Some outstanding issues

     

    This section of the paper will examine some CEDAW-related issues that remain outstanding, by outlining the present situation and suggesting some solutions.

     

    First issue, relating to Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention: the definition of discrimination and its incorporation and criminalisation in the Basic Statute of the State

     

    The present situation: Although the Basic Statute of the State criminalises discrimination on grounds of gender, among other grounds set out in Article 17, it does not provide a definition of what is meant by discrimination against women and does not criminalise it; neither do any other laws, notably the Omani Penal Code. The government’s way of dealing with this fundamental matter is merely to say that the acts to which women fall victim are criminalised, and in most cases are not confined to women.  The CEDAW Convention calls on States Parties to include the definition of discrimination in their Constitutions and Basic Statutes and criminalise it.  However, the laws of Oman do not yet contain a comprehensive definition of discrimination and do not criminalise it, which encourages vagueness in the interpretation of legal texts and expands the discretionary powers granted to some of the bodies involved in implementing the laws.  Instead of being interpreted in women’s favour, the absence of a definition is often interpreted against them, causing them to miss out on their rights and be denied a sense of security and equality.

     

    Proposed solutions: The absence of such wording presents a fundamental challenge hindering the consecration of equality between women and men.  It also undermines the efficacy of national legislation and implementation of the CEDAW Convention, with which the Sultanate is under an obligation to comply, and leaves their provisions open to individual interpretation without creating a clear and defined intellectual framework.  It is therefore recommended that one of the following three options be adopted:

     

    Option 1: Amend the Basis Statute of the State by adding a paragraph to Article 17 giving a definition of discrimination in accordance with the Convention, and stipulating that discrimination is criminalised, while leaving it to the Omani Penal Code or another specific law to set the appropriate penalty.

     

    Option 2: Amend the Omani Penal Code, as the relevant legal instrument setting out criminalised acts, in such a way as to provide a definition of discrimination in accordance with the Convention, and the forms of discrimination that are criminalised, and laying down the appropriate penalty.

     

    Option 3: Promulgate a special law on women based on the Convention, bringing together everything to do with women from other laws into a single text, thus giving practical expression to the Convention in keeping with legislative thinking and the prevailing legal understanding, and facilitating for members of the executive the task of honouring these obligations.  It is essential that this law includes in the Article providing definitions a clear definition of discrimination, and that it criminalises it.

     

    Second issue, relating to Articles 3, 4 and 7 of the Convention:  the requirement to classify data and information by gender in order to ensure women’s development and advancement and create the infrastructures to promote women’s political participation

     

    The present situation: As far as the classification of data and information by gender goes, while government bodies strive to give a gender breakdown of all official statistics the matter goes no further than being a purely statistical exercise on the part of the government.  No other sectors are affected, and it applies only to data at a national/overall level for the different sectors. Information broken down by gender is not necessarily always available on a geographical basis, and because the Statistical Law promulgated by Royal Decree No. 29/2001, which regulates the gathering, analysis and publication of data, does not include any obligation to classify data and information on a gender basis, most private and civil agencies and institutions do not do so.  Even some government institutions (like the main Election Commission) do not consider it a legal requirement to provide official gender data broken down district by district, or for the recognised conurbations in Oman, and do not do so.

     

    As for creating the infrastructures to promote women’s political participation, there has been a clear decline in the representation of women in the Majlis al-Shura, while the government has continued to support them in the Majlis al-Dawla.  Debate is still raging within the government and among some ill-informed people about gender policies and successful international experiments with electoral quotas.  The government should end this debate by taking measures to secure equality at all levels, including positive discrimination to achieve the desired results, based on its responsibility to bring about social patterns of conduct conducive to strengthening human development, and in accordance with Article 4 of the Convention.  There have been no small number of international experiments that have shown clearly that an electoral system with quotas for women produces positive and reliable results, and that it is the ideal way to ensure that women attain representative power.

     

    Proposed solutions:

     

    1. As regards the classification of data and information by gender: Bearing in mind that the absence of gender-based data and statistics was one of the main observations made on the first Oman Country Report, and was attributed to a lack of sufficient gendering of knowledge and data systems in the Sultanate, i.e. the fact that they are not designed in accordance with gender considerations and concepts, and in view of the importance of such information being available for monitoring implementation of the Convention and women’s advancement in Oman, it is vitally important for the Statistical Law referred to earlier to be amended. And Article should be added making obligatory the gendering of information and data and all instruments used to gather, store, analyse and publish this information and data, and stating that this applies as far as possible at all geographic levels.  It is vital to include an appropriate penalty as a deterrent against infringement of this Article, as well as suitable incentives to encourage compliance with it.

     

    1. As regards ensuring women’s development and advancement, it is vitally important that swift action be taken to approve a draft national strategy on women and formulate national action plans to put the strategy into effect to boost the position of women, and that the necessary financial resources be allocated.

     

    1. As regards the creation of infrastructures that encourage women to participate in the political process: Recognising that women’s participation in political life and attaining positions in decision-making institutions, especially representative power, is a necessary condition for them fully to enjoy the benefits of citizenship; and given that diversity in the make-up of the Majlis al-Shura is seen as a positive factor in enriching the debates and decisions of the Majlis and leading to better representation of society, and that it raises the status of women and helps to change stereotypes about them – studies have shown a correlation between the presence of women’s and family issues on the Majlis’s agenda and among its recommendations and the arrival of women as members of the Majlis; and out of concern to give society in general and women in particular a fresh opportunity to recognise the role of women in constructing social policy and the success of the Majlis al-Shura and bringing about measured, gradual change in line with demographic changes and the political aspirations of society, especially the intellectual and educated classes, it is therefore essential that the Election Law be amended to include a quota system appropriate to the election system followed in Oman, and to re-draw electoral constituency boundaries, so as to give women a greater chance of playing a part in municipal councils and the Majlis al-Shura. Needless to say, there are many forms of electoral quota systems for women, designed to secure various levels of women’s representation, such as the closed quota and open quota systems, and minimum or maximum quotas.

     

    The amendment to the Election Law must also make it obligatory to hold and make available data relating to women as candidates and voters, broken down by age, district and level of education.

     

    Third issue, relating to Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention:  the definition and criminalisation of all forms of sexual harassment and gender-based violence

     

    The present situation: Although the Basic Statute of State outlaws attacks on individuals and their privacy, as does the Omani Penal Code, several Articles of which criminalise various forms of attack against the individual, the most pertinent of which in this context being attacks on a person’s dignity and reputation, the Code does not define sexual harassment or violence against women, including domestic violence.  Neither does it define the acts that may be construed as sexual harassment, which consequently are not criminalised, as a result of which it is not possible to impose an appropriate punishment on those who perpetrate such acts, since they are not specifically listed as discriminatory in such a way as to protect women against individual interpretations or cultural contexts that might consider certain types of domestic violence acceptable.  Needless to say, the Convention calls on States Parties to criminalise all forms of violence directed against women, whether in the home or in the workplace or anywhere else.

     

    Proposed solutions: The absence of any wording to define and criminalise these things leaves women exposed to violence of all kinds, hinders the advancement of their situation, crushes their aspirations, and curbs their ambitions as human beings.  It also provides a rationale for the unjust oppression of a whole section of society, and presents a fundamental challenge that stands in the way of implementing the Convention.  It is therefore proposed that one of the following two options be adopted:

     

    Option 1: Amend the Omani Penal Code in such a way as to give a clear definition and illustrative examples of all forms of violence against women and their sexual harassment, and to criminalise both, and introduce an appropriate deterrent penalty.  This option would be the easier to implement, as the Omani Penal Code is an old law and is currently in the process of being amended.

     

    Option 2: Promulgate a special law on women based on the Convention, bringing together everything to do with women from other laws into a single text, thus giving practical expression to the Convention in keeping with legislative thinking and the prevailing legal understanding, and facilitating for members of the executive the task of honouring these obligations.  It is essential for such a law to include a clear definition and illustrative examples of all forms of violence against women and their sexual harassment, criminalise both of these things, and introduce an appropriate deterrent penalty.  This option, however, might require a national strategy or action plan for women to be adopted first.

     

    Fourth issue, relating to Article 9:  enabling Omani women to pass on citizenship to their children and care for them

     

    The present situation: The Omani Nationality Law No. 38/2014 contains several provisions that discriminate against women, some of which violate basic human rights and contravene the Basic Statute of the State.  The Law restricts the right of an Omani woman to pass on citizenship to her children to just two situations: (1) where the father is unknown, and (2) where their Omani father has lost his citizenship; and it prevents her from passing on her Omani citizenship if she marries a foreigner, unless her foreign husband has acquired Omani citizenship, in which case the children can obtain citizenship through their father.  Citizenship is acquired, according to the logic of Omani legislation, only by way of the father.  This clearly discriminates against the mother.  There is also discrimination in the difference between the conditions for granting citizenship to a foreign woman married to an Omani man and those that have to be fulfilled for a foreign man married to an Omani woman, with regard to the duration of the marriage, level of education, occupational skills and employability, and with regard to the existence of children from the marriage.  Under the immigration law as currently applied, a child on reaching the age of 18 is considered an independent adult, and can only be granted permanent residence with his mother by means of a work visa.

     

    Proposed solutions: This law clearly discriminates against women, and as the legislative thinking behind the restriction on transmission of citizenship to the paternal route would be hard to change in the short term, it is proposed that the following practical steps be taken:

     

    1. A study on the circumstances of Omani women married to foreign men, exploring the issues that need to be taken into account in order to deal with the situation correctly and putting forward alternative legislation or policies to obviate any negative consequences arising. To this end, a team should be formed to carry out this study from the perspectives of: (1) the CEDAW Convention and (2) preservation of the family entity (based on the Social Principles set out in the Basic Statute of the State).

     

    1. An order issued by the Inspector General of Police and Customs effectively adding a new type of visa for the children of Omani women married to foreign men until the study referred to above has been completed and a decision taken on any alternative legislation and policies to which it might give rise, so that children are not forced to leave the country on reaching the age of 18. This visa should be valid for five or ten years, like the civil identity card for Omanis or a passport, instead of having to be renewed every two years as at present.

     

     

    Fifth issue, relating to Articles 11 and 13 of the Convention:  the creation of a woman-friendly working environment in both public and private sectors

     

    The present situation: The working environment in the public and private sectors is not supportive to women, as can be seen from the lack of adequate childbirth and maternity leave and the non-existence within the official education system of formal nursery facilities for babies and infants to support working women.  This has the effect of curtailing women’s participation in the labour market and development, and reducing their opportunities for economic empowerment.  Another practice that discriminates against women occurs when official government announcements of job vacancies give being male as one of the qualifying conditions for a post.  This is blatant discrimination according to the understanding of the CEDAW Convention.

     

    Proposed solutions: The CEDAW Convention calls for administrative arrangements and measures to be taken to support working women and limit the impact of their biological functions on their developmental, economic and social role.  It also calls for appropriate measures to be taken to empower women economically and make possible their active participation in the labour market.  The following measures are therefore recommended:

     

    1. Amendment of Article 80 of the Civil Service Law, promulgated by Royal Decree No. 120/2004, which grants female employees special leave covering the period before and after childbirth, to give them 90 days instead of 50, to enable women to return to work in full health and fully active, which will impact positively on productivity; also, a similar amendment to Article 83 of the Labour Law promulgated by Royal Decree No. 35/2003. As an alternative to amending the two laws, a Ministerial Order could be issued notifying those concerned that the Article has been changed.

     

    1. A Royal Decree amending Article 4 of the Law of Pensions and End of Service Benefits for Omani Nationals Employed in the Government Sector promulgated by Royal Decree No. 26/1986, or the addition of an Article, providing for a woman to combine her salary with the retirement pension of her husband or father, and also for a man to be able to combine his salary with the retirement pension of his wife or mother.

     

    1. An Order by the Civil Service Council, or a Memorandum from the Council of Ministers, making it obligatory on all government bodies (and government-owned companies or companies in which the government holds a major share) not to specify gender when advertising jobs, including the Ministry of Manpower when it advertises jobs in the private sector. This is in order to achieve equality of opportunity between women and men to take up various jobs in both public and private sectors, where their educational qualifications and occupational skills are equal.

     

    1. An Order from the Minister of Education requiring nursery services to be included within the government education system. The government could invite existing private nurseries to join the government system, or set up new nurseries within government buildings, or encourage the setting up of nurseries close to work establishments and ministries and government bodies.

     

    1. A Ministerial Order from the Ministry of Manpower concerning measures to deal with Omani women on the same terms as Omani men without distinction when granting permits to recruit employees for domestic work.

     

    1. Ratification by the Sultanate of Oman of the relevant International Labour Organisation Conventions, namely:
    • Convention No. 100, on equal pay for men and women for doing similar jobs and work;
    • Convention No. 111, on non-discrimination in appointment procedures and working conditions;
    • Convention No. 156, on equality of opportunity and equal treatment between male and female workers with family responsibilities;
    • Convention No. 183, on maternity protection.

     

    Sixth issue, relating to Article 15 of the Convention:  blood money for women to be equal to that for men

     

    The present situation: Royal Decree No. 118/2008 increased the amount of diya (blood money, or compensation) to be paid for loss of life to 15,000 Omani riyals, but did not address the current discrimination between the diya for a man and the diya for a woman, which is calculated on the basis that it should be half of that paid for a man.  This practice is not approved by a consensus of opinion among the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, but is extrapolated from an ancient interpretation of certain Islamic legal texts that has not kept up with modern developments in Islamic societies and cultures.

     

    Proposed solutions: The CEDAW Convention calls for the annulment of any text that might imply or lead to direct or indirect discrimination against women.  From the point of view of equality between men and women in terms of dignity and humanity, that applies to women whether they are alive or dead.  Likewise, the Basic Statute of the State grants international law the character of national law upon ratification, meaning that this observance of an old law that was passed before Oman ratified the CEDAW Convention is no longer legal, because of the abrogation of the associated ruling.  However, there are people who cling to some dogmatic interpretations of Islamic law, so recourse should be had to the opinions of Islamic jurisprudents, especially as some of them have started to reform their ideas and see the question of diya as a trivial matter that can be left up to the ruler to decide, and not a matter of doctrine.  It is therefore proposed that one of the following two options be adopted:

     

    Option 1: Have the Ministry of Legal Affairs or the Supreme Court issue a legal fatwa to the effect that Royal Decree No. 118/2008, which increased the amount of diya to be paid for loss of life to 15,000 Omani riyals, applies to women and men without discrimination, and circulate this in the Official Gazette and to all the courts.

     

    Option 2: Use the term “civil compensation” instead of “diya” (blood money).  It would be possible, moreover, to issue a decree amending the Omani Penal Code and the Law of Diya and Arush (compensation for injury), adding the new terminology.  From the discussions there have been on this issue, it would seem that this option would be more readily accepted, as the term “civil compensation” is a secular term and less surrounded by dogma than the term “diya”, a term used in Islamic jurisprudence.

     

     

    Conclusion

     

    While the Sultanate of Oman has made great strides in the empowerment of women compared with some Arab states, nevertheless progress has stalled recently, as women’s advancement and empowerment has progressed in neighbouring and other Arab states.  The economic situation in Oman and the growing reliance on expatriate labour call for harnessing the efforts of all citizens, male and female without discrimination, while also giving due weight to gender considerations and the empowerment of women to balance their biological functions with their social and economic roles.

    *An Independent Omani researcher in Public Policy and Human Rights.