Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To Discuss or Not to Discuss?

A few days ago I just happened to be in an office with a few colleagues (male) after a meeting and one of them joked about Oman being ranked second in the Arab World  for women's rights, etc. Yes I can personally attest to the fact that Oman is an awesome place for women... BUT, that doesn't at all mean we can pretend problems don't exist (a technique we all know so very well). Since they brought it up, I started pointing out that there are definitely things that require improvement in Oman.. but that we're on the right track.
They casually told me that nothing requires improvement and that Oman and Islam have granted women every right they need. I started listing the things that I felt stood in the way of female empowerment in Oman (Examples: the right to marry/divorce, freedom of movement, the right to marry a non-Omani, and the huge societal pressures that block women from living the life they want... particularly in conservative areas of Oman like Dhofar).
These colleagues I was talking to are western-educated and spent a considerable amount of time abroad. They see themselves as 'open-minded' and 'liberal'. Both had girlfriends their 'abroad lives' and female friends, etc, etc. You know, the typical Omani scenario. But they came home to Oman, married their first cousin, and live completely traditional lives.
To my horror, they flipped and point-blank accused me of promoting 'Western ideologies' in Dhofar and warned me of how dangerous it is. To them, women in Dhofar shouldn't be working and mixing with men because "a little freedom will lead to huge corruption" (an exact quote). To them, a woman's place is at home because if she works, her children will be raised badly. To them, allowing women to drive means giving them the freedom to date and move around as they like (the horror!). To them, promoting women's right to divorce is absurd (currently an Omani man can divorce his wife in court without her knowing, and the court doesn't even bother to make sure she knows - same goes with marriage). To them, female empowerment will 'destroy society'.
So, yes Omani legislation may grant women their 'rights' (Oman ratified CEDAW in 2005 with reservations on several articles not in line with Islamic Sharia law) but in Oman, I've said it and I'll say it again "Society is more powerful than the law". If your brother or father or uncle or husband decides you can't work, then forget any dreams of working. If they decide you're not allowed to study, then forget about it. If they don't let you drive, then you don't drive. If they don't let you go anywhere without a chaperone, then you aren't going anywhere. The list is long, but this is how our girls in Salalah live. This is their reality.
These men told me that girls aren't 'trustworthy' or 'responsible' enough to be given freedom. THEY SAID THAT. I asked them why; they answered that this is how women are. I told them if they raised their daughters differently things will change. They said society will never change. I disagreed.
These men at work accused me of 'living in an unrealistic bubble' and 'promoting western ideologies'. Since when has making my own choices in life been a western and unrealistic ideology? I humor society by being timid and quiet in public, by wearing the black abaya, by attending the social gatherings required of me.... etc. Yet I still have the freedom (thanks to my family) to work, drive, travel, run my own errands, and make my own decisions. They raised me differently. I told my colleagues that this is possible for all girls. Change is possible, if slow.
The conversation took a turn for the worse when they told me that my ideas were un-Islamic and that Islam grants women full dignity 'within the four walls of her home'. I chose to end the conversation at that since I don't want to delve into any discussion of Islam with people who have mixed up cultural values with Islamic ones. My Islam is different. My faith in God is strong, but I am not afraid of using my head to challenge myself and the traditions I grew up with.
As you can see, the conversation with these colleagues upset me. It ruined my mood for the rest of the day and had me thinking. Deep inside me I know change is coming and that it's possible to live life to the fullest without giving up religious values. I don't agree with the current lives girls live in Salalah, a life dictated by 'society' and 'what will people say', and when the girls attempt to challenge society then religion is brought in as the final force to shut these girls up and keep them behind closed doors.
So.... no, things aren't all peaches and cream in Oman.
I'm sorry for sounding so negative, but that whole discussion left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was a reminder of the society I live in.


  1. reading this made me angry and frustrated, I hate it that so many people think this way in muslim comunities all around the world. Not only in Oman.

  2. As they say in my country: everyone judges itself.

  3. Sadly this says an awful lot about the insecurity of men. They seem to live in fear of not being able to control the women in their lives. It's so hypocritical - especially given they all do as they please. Perhaps that's exactly why they're so scared - fearful that their women will start doing the same as them! It's pretty sad and ridiculous. I'm sure men would ultimately have happier more fulfilled relationships if they actually treated the women in their families as equals.

  4. You come over as such an airbrain - when it suits you - they may have a point

  5. Nadia, I've been rereading your other post about discrimination of women in Oman. I feel solidarity with all the unhappy women in Oman, Gulf and other parts of the world. And I must say, I really really like your way of thinking, you are a wonderful person. and so eloquent! I love your blog, It's one of the few great blogs I follow. And you are so cool. I think of you with warmth, respect and admiration. You are strong, intelligent. Let me wish you all the best things, happiness, health, love!

    If you are not comfortable posting this comment it's ok, It's kind of meant to be a personal message to you :)

    Good luck to you in everything, may God bless you!


  6. Dear Nadia,
    untill 1963 husbands in Germany had the right to bar their spouses from going to work. In the first civile law book in the late 19th centuries women were not existent as subjects, they couldn't be heirs at law, they were under the complete guardianship of their fathers or husbands and the bible still says women should be subservient to their husbands -
    I think their is hope for Dhofar (sometimes in the future)
    Greetings from Jeddah

  7. Swedish women was liberated in the 1960th. Keep faith, your days will come! Love your blog!

  8. Let me start by saying Oman is much better for women than many countries in the region but as you said "things aren't all peaches and cream".
    I don't think Oman's law is a problem as it grants everyone's rights; Example: women has the right to marry without parents permission and divorce in court. Also I know I met two omani women who married NON-ARAB men. Not to mention Omani women can do whatever they desire (travel ALONE, drive , vote, work ....etc).

    So it's the society!!
    I don't know if your colleagues are from THE ICE AGE but such ideology is collapsing on itself and is to vanish soon. They are clearly mistaken their cultural rules with Islamic noble values.

    So don't let such nonsense gets you. And keep it up for the wonderful blog

    Greeting from bla bla bla
    bla bla

  9. Wow! Why am i not surprised by this? Oh wait because it is the perception of most Omani men. I am an Omani woman who has gone one step beyond the so called "behaviors of what our Omani women should act like" and have started not only a blog but a YouTube channel but i did it from home "so maybe i will be given brownie points" ?

  10. Wow.... I didn't know it was that bad! This issue has nothing to do with Islam, I think it's cultural and these men are afraid to lose something they (think they) have.
    I think most men in my country would never want to live the way Omani men live. It's just too much hassle having to control the women in your life all the time, having to chaperone them and decide what's good for them or not. Most men in my country are happy that women can get on with their life & contribute to the income of the household so they can live a more wealthy and fulfilling life. They want a wife who is a sparring partner who they can talk to on the same level when they get home from work. Not an airhead who has been watching romcoms all day dreaming about a life she will never have.
    A happy woman will not run away from her man but will make the marriage even happier. In every way...

  11. Gosh, Yes, it is so true. It seems a lot of these Khaleeji guys have an alternate ego the moment they leave their Gulf country and shed their cultural values and behave completely differently. Then the moment they come home they return to their traditional mentality.

    Even if being abroad may change a man it seems to have only a slight effect. Really, this post is a story that I have seen time and time again not only in my personal experience but the experiences in those women around me who wish to drive to go visit their mothers or go to the dentist.

    I think things are changing but it really will need to come from women putting a great deal of pressure on men for years. I think these normal desires of wanting to experience life through freedom of movement, work and driving must continually be asked of men.

    I don't think Islam is so imposing that a woman be robbed of her identity as a human being. And, this is what happens, she is treated like some kind of mindless person just there to raise children. Actually, women have dreams of opening businesses and contributing. This isn't some Western drive, it is an instinct of a human being.

    I am not Omani but an American women. I think this issue is not about West or East or Islam. It is about a human being's rights. All human beings should be allowed a chance to live a dream to give back to society. It is a step beyond the four walls of a home. It cannot be silenced, and it will never go away. Everyone wants to be a part of society and assuming women aren't smart enough and cannot be trusted is a false belief.

    Yet, a change will not happen until women and supportive men speak up loudly and say clearly. Women are smart. Women can be trusted. Women don't need permission from a man to be a human being with normal desires of self fulfillment. Self-fulfillment being able to become an engineer, a business owner, a baker, to study. A person who is bored, depressed and desperate cannot be the best wife or mother. For me, seeing really rich royal families and really poor families, it is the same look in the eye. A look of being robbed of the right to fully live life.

    I think that is really bold and it will result in difficulties, but quietly accepting something or not doing anything will result in the same thing perpetuating.

  12. as a dhofari girl (who has an awesome family), i can say women had much more societel freedom pre-1970's then now.
    Society in the GCC is turning more backwards by the day.

  13. We just need to keep going and fight the right battles as women. Even my husband, whose pretty traditional in my mind, but open in the context of Oman, I fight him every day for my right to earn a living, raise a child to think of herself as equal/ co-dependent with men in society, not a dependent of them, and deal with his stupid insecurities. Culture made him weak sometimes, in that sometimes he really can be that Islamic gentleman, that hero, but other times, but you got to raise a woman to the level of being a lady for a man to truly be that. A lady isn't a mouse shut up in the house. That's not a great man, that's a little one.

    I always just say, I follow Islam, not His-lam and culture and society don't define what women can or cannot do for me. I use the women of the Sahaba as my examples in my interactions with men, how I dress, and yeah, sometimes I like to be like Aicha R.A. and wear niqab and stay home, but other times, I like to be like other women of the sahaba, who worked in the market, sold things they made, not in the confinements of their house. Like Um Salamah I want to go out and learn and be a part of scoiety even if men are in it;).
    Women are half of society. We cannot be kept or treated as children or this nation will never grow. Women who are children cannot raise good men, and that's that. They don't have the power to influence a little boy to grow into a decent man, if a woman is kept and treated as a child herself.

    Your co-workers are hypocrites, not examples Muslims, and may Allah guide them.

    Keep doing everything halal and good you are doing. Ignore them. They have small minds, and are just little boys pretending to be men.

  14. I think also, maybe these deep cultural issues of preventing women from actualizing stem from:

    1) ignorance: the absence of intelligence, generally speaking, a highly intelligent man and women are more supportive and open-minded, believing in faulty values which leads to 2)

    2) fear: the absence of love, these cultural prescriptions of "NO" you cannot, stem from fear of what others perceive of you, The fear is stronger than the realization of the empowerment of joy that comes from having a woman who is self actualized (able to express herself fully as a human being).

  15. during prophet muhammad sallahu alayhi wsalams time women had more freedom than SOME women do today! its a very very sad thing and its bc men are AFRAID! if men would stop doing WHATEVER they want and thinking their women will too just bc they do it and stop expecting their wives to just sit at home and b a slave (basically thats how some are living) then things in this world could b much better