Monday, October 17, 2011

Omani Women's Day

Mornin' Everyone! His Majesty Sultan Qaboos declared October 17th 'Omani Women's Day'. Today and everyday I'm proud (naturally) to be an Omani woman living in this country. I complain a lot (I know I know), but to be honest I live a much better life here than I ever did abroad. Legally, Oman rocks for women. We can work, drive, vote, and pretty much do (and wear) what we want. There are no laws controlling how women live their lives. Last week the first sailing program for Omani women was launched.. we have female ministers, doctors, professors, entreprenuers, and ONE female in Majlis Al Shura (our version of parliament). 43% of private sector jobs apparently are held by women (according to today's Muscat Daily). All in all, Oman is a great place for women.

My rants have always been about how 'society' controls women, not the government. Our government gives women every chance to excel if they want to, ....... and if their fathers, brothers and husbands want them to.

If you live in Muscat and you're a female in yours 20s-30s, that means you probably work, drive, meet your friends for coffee, and make your own decisions most of the time. If you live outside of Muscat, the situation is different. When people read about Oman, they are more likely to read about women in Muscat. Their achievements, their privileges, their opportunities, and the awesome lives that they live. Women's sailing clubs? Why not! Afternoons with your friends banana-riding it at Sawadi resort? Bring it on! Female bikers? Sure! Gyms? Shopping? Businesses? Hobbies? Sports? Swimming pools? Everyone loves Muscat!

I can't speak for the rest of Oman, but in Salalah life sucks half the time for women. I'd like to think that everything is just fine, but I have to be honest. Men still control most of the women here. Women are chaperoned, controlled, and told what do do most of the time. Sure, tons of girls go to college or university but the moment they graduate, men control where they apply for jobs, and whether they can work or not. You work hard at college, get your degree, then your 'man' tells you that you are only allowed to work in a school or any place where your colleagues will be women.

He can tell you to 'cover your face' when you're with him in the car because some passerby might see you. He can tell you to not sit in the garden because the neighbor's twelve year old son is on the roof. He can forbid you from visiting your friend (who lives up the street) because she's not related to you and it's therefore inappropriate. He can tell you to hide in your bedroom becuase the plumber is coming in to fix your toilet and he shouldn't 'see' you. He can force you to tint your car windows so people don't see you when you're driving. He can pop into your office at any time to 'check up on you' and make sure you're behaving. He can demand a portion of your salary every month because your'e a 'woman' and you don't need it whereas he does. It can be your father, husband, distant cousin or even your 16-year-0ld brother. As long as he's a man, he can control you.

I hate to sound pessimistic but I can't lie. This is the case with a large percentage of females in Salalah. Things are changing rapidly but it'll be years before your average Dhofari young woman can apply for her dream job without consulting her family, or sit in the public section of a cafe or restaurant with her friends, or even throw off her face veil without causing World War III in her tribe.

As many of you know, I spent five years abroad. FIVE WHOLE YEARS on my own. Cooking for myself, living by myself (almost), and taking care of myself. I ran the MSA (Muslim Students' Association) by myself and traveled halfway across the world twice a year on my own and believe it or not, I lived without the abaya (please distinguish between abaya and hijab. I would never ever take off my hijab) for five years. Scandalous. (no one cared though, as long as I kept it all to myself and far away from Oman)

When I came back for good, I felt like an outcast. I made my extended family nervous. My aunts and uncles were nervous about letting their daughters hang out with me because I may lead them down the path of sin (for real?). I quit going to family weddings because people stared at me and whispered. It's not that I look different, but people just looked at me and assumed that I was a wild thing. Until this very day, three years later, my female cousins have never been in the car with me. Too scandalous for their families. Going out with me may - heaven forbid - encourage people to talk about them. Remember, 'people' control how you live your life here, so you have to follow their rules.

When I bought my adorable car, about 1633 distant male cousins openly objected. My father humored them when all I wanted to do was tell them to sh*ve it! For years he's been telling me to just relax and humor the so-called 'people' who feel it's their duty to tell you how to live your life. I've become accustomed to humoring them most of the time, but every now and then I lose my patience.

For the past two years, people have been approaching my family regularly about my 'situation' (i.e. unmarried and way too independent for their taste). According to them, I'll be a spinster forever unless I get married now. Also, according to them, no one wants an independent female so it's better to accept any man who comes along and thank my lucky stars that someone agreed to marry such a wild thing.

People still see me driving in the street and feel the need to report to any man in my family that I was 'seen' in 'public'. If I'm at a restaurant (hidden in the family section with my sisters), I text my brother and bet 5 rials that someone is going to see my car and call him and tell him I'm at the restaurant. He thinks it's hilarious.

After endless discussions about this with my independent female peers, we've come to the following conclusion: "In Salalah, if you're a female, you can work and drive and go out and live your life .... as long as you're not 'seen' by anyone". Basically, try to remain invisible. My friends have come to accept this as an unwritten rule, but my question is ... WHY accept? Why conform? What's so wrong about being out there? WHY can't I give the plumber instructions instead? WHY must I cover my face when we're driving through a crowded place? Why can't I join a committee at the handicapped children's centre? WHY can't I talk about Female genital mutilation with anyone? (why the hell is it still practiced in the first place?) Why does it make my male cousins uncomfortable to think of me working with men? Why does it upset you so much that I drive? Why must I tolerate you marrying a second wife? Who gave you the right to inform me that 'it's time' to get married? Who gave you the right to demand my salary because I'm a woman and I don't need it? Why the hell is it taboo now to fly to Muscat on my own when I spent five years flying across the planet alone? Why?
I struggle on a regular basis because I'm a woman in Salalah. Along with my peers and friends, we've agreed to slowly work together to push the boundaries. People tell us to just go along with the society, because it'll never change. I refuse to believe that. We will continue pushing boundaries until we can pave the road bit by bit for Dhofari women to live the life they choose. Along with fellow female Dhofari bloggers Susan & Mimi, I will fight against discrimination and I will win. I believe that. I am able to see how women have progressed in Muscat and I am able to envision how I can help to bring about change in Dhofar and I can help to empower women.
On the occasion of Omani Women's Day, I will renew my determination to make change happen. If you're a woman, belive that you can do anything. Throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples. Even the smallest person can make a change. I have faith in Oman and I have faith in Omani women. We can do SO MUCH if we just set our minds to it. Anything is possible. Do not give in to society's demands. You are beautiful, you are smart and with a little empowerment you can do anything. Believe in that.

Regards,

Nadia (your self-proclaimed feminist)

20 comments:

  1. Good on you girl.

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  2. Wow Nadia.. you rock and i hope it works out as you have envisioned in the near future !!!

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  3. What an inspired and inspiring post! All the best to you, to your friends and to your close family (men included: your dad and brother look like cool guys!)in your endeavour to change.

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  4. Wish you a "Happy Women's day" and I hope your dreams for every woman will come true...

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  5. You are truly an inspiration Nadia. You speak wisely, freely and with emotion. I love reading your blogs. Keep up the good work. From a "Brit in Salalah"

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  6. Well said Nadia. I fully support all that you say. I hope other Dhofari women follow your lead (and indeed are allowed to). I find your blogs both inspirational and informative. Keep up the good work. Well done - from a Brit who has been here lone enough to see the changes!

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  7. "No one wants an independent female"... ROTFL!!! Fortunately independent females do not need to be wanted (or married, for that matter).
    Walking the bicultural tightrope means getting the good - and the bad - from both sides. In double doses.

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  8. excellent post, maximum respect

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  9. Raw3a ya Nadia, loved this post! <3

    My sisters should learn something from you. They're really intelligent but I hate how they accepted society as it is. When I get angry and start crying because of something they say to me that I'm living in "an imaginary world" and not willing to accept reality. Well I don't want to accept reality, but yeah why not change it?

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  10. Well said!! Stick to your guns - being conventional is over-rated! ;-) It is people like you who will lead the way to change in Dhofar and other less courageous Dhofari women will ultimately thank you for it!

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  11. happy women day and my best wishes to all Omani women out there ..

    Follow each other .

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  12. Well done for wanting the change. I beleive society will and is changing .. One example is at the start of 1970, my father in law stopped my aunt in law to go to school because it was "3aib" .. Today his daughter is at university and he is pushing her to excel.
    Another example that relates to salalah, in then 80s when we lived there mom was one of the few women who drive. They didn't talk about her because she wasn't dhofari .. But an egyptian lady who was married to a dhofari was so much criticized for driving since her "kids" we're dhofari .. Today "with alot of other types of restrictions" but women drive there!!

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  14. ظفاري وأفتخر
    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
    المرأة نصف المجتمع وبما أنها الأم والأخت والزوجة فأنا أقول أنها النصف وأكثر. إن الوضع في محافظة ظفار لهو مؤسف من جانب ومحزن من جانب آخر. ولاكن أود مناقشة ما قالته صاحبة هذه لمدونة بأن الرجل يتحكم بحرية المرأة. إن رؤيتي ومقربتي من المجتمع الظفاري يوجب علي القول بأن نصف مشاكل المرأة الظفارية يكمن في المرأة نفسها. فالكثير من النساء الاتي يسوقن للمجتمع بأنهن متدينات يقومن بتحديد الخطوط الحمراء للحريات المتاحة للمرأة. فمنهن الاتي ينتمين لمن يقال لهم السادة ومعتقداتهم الجاهلة - بالعرق من ناحية وبالتابعية العمياء من ناحية- هن من يصنع خطوط الحرية لباقي النساء. أنا لا أبرئ الرجال فهم أيظا مسؤولون عن الجهل والظلم اللاحق بإناث الجنوب ولاكنهم أنفسهم ولدرجة معينة أسرى النساء من ذوات الجهل.

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  15. Readomg this post started out as a shock and ended up with me in tears, the words you expressed about the life of women in salalah being locked in the bedroom cos the plumber is coming..or hide ur face because someone may pass by the car to not being able to go into the garden because the 12 yr old neighbours son may see you, bring back many negative memories that have and will affect me for life. My 3 years of qabila life were the most mentally challenging and have left the deepest of cuts on my heart.
    I couldnt tolerate the control and lack of trust / respect that dhofari women and expat wives of dhofari men are granted.
    Nadia i know we never met when i lived in salalah but i hope one day we can meet along with Susan and Mimi.
    You ladies are miricle workers in the Dhofari society & i ask Allah to keep you all safe and healthy always.
    You ladies are gems of society.

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  16. Woohoo you are so right...keep on going with your mission and shut the people up! Just because they are JEALOUS!! But jealously is counting others blessings instead of your own as I have read...so woohoo THEY are COUNTING YOUR blessings! You are better than them!! And don't conform keep p-ing them off! :D I am here in UAE (Al Ain) and I am NOT conforming to those people either...I LOVE doing the opposite of what they want! Woohoo!

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  17. Where my husband is from, life can be the same. Men don't want to marry women who work as anything other than teachers, ect, or in offices with other women. I find as the woman though, you gotta be strong. My husband tried ALL that on me. It's his culture, I get it. I love the niqab and all but I wear it for religion not because I am afraid of being "seen". I won't change what car I drive. If I can afford an Aston martin I don't care who talks, no man is taking any of my salary unless I truly want to gift it to him, and if he's gonna check up on me in the boardroom, he's gonna be made to look like an idiot et all. People have to care about doing the right thing, more than they care about doing things the right way for society. In the end, if your family or any men can't respect that, leave them. Serriously, be strong about. Who cares if your tribe wars over it? And a girl can change a man like that, just by being strong in who she is and doing what is right, but not fighting for stupid things, just the things that really count. Like freedom of mind and body. Which the Omani government and Islamic religion ALREADY give women. So honestly, your family or tribe too messed up to honor that? Leave 'em. Serriously. There are others trapped there among them waiting to follow your lead, and as long as you are on the right path, anyone halfway decent will respect that of you with time. The rest? they are a waste. Happy women's day Nadia.

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  18. Assalam o alaikum sister, I am from Karachi, Pakitan and randomly came across your blog while searching for "reasons to live in Muscat" ...I think what you are doing is the right thing. Women have no free-will, what is called free-will is actually a conformance with what male relatives consider 'proper' I am glad you stand up for your rights, I will keep you in my prayers.

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