Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Being stuck in a 1950s time warp today in Oman, and Omani women being "allowed" to work

Omani women are not really free. Their freedom depends on their will to separate themselves from their families and any possibility of such, same as it does anywhere else in the Arab world.

I was watching an episode of the television show “Mad Men”, a series set in 1950s America last night, and a poignant line from the show echoed back at me.
JOAN’S MOTHER [to JOAN]: Do you think your husband will allow you to work?

JOAN: Allow me?
Exactly, the word of the day dear followers of “How to live like an Omani Princess” is ‘allow’. Omani women are technically  & magnanimously ALLOWED to do and become many things.

They (and I guess by extension ‘me’ since my Omani in-laws by result of marriage regardless of passport expect me to be Omani) have it better than women in Saudi, as is always pointed out. We are “ALLOWED” this.
There aren’t religious police minding the malls to tell us to wear our scarves a certain way or to cover our faces. The law doesn’t say Omani women have to wear religious dress at all. We can drive and, in majority, do… And are encouraged to do so by our relatives (except for some Dhofari girlfriends of ours who families seem to wish they lived in Saudi). We can work in any profession we’d like, be it an engineer, or in the army, while even impoverished Saudi women are forbidden from becoming check-out girls in the local supermarkets because they’d be around men there and in a ‘mixed environment’ whereas in Oman we know that is bogus and has nothing to do with Islam. Women in the Prophet’s time worked in the markets even with men so it isn’t something of modern times as the ignorant would like their women to believe. Many of us get paid more than men in the same field (which is better than in America for example).

Omani women can also marry whoever they want and despite what people say, yes, yes they can even without their families’ permission if they are brave enough to get the paperwork required from the government offices “the wali” ect.. I have many friends who have done so and they had an easy time of it relatively speaking, as far as dealing with “inshaAllah”  bureaucracy is in Oman for anyone off the street.  They can travel without a “maharam” and don’t need anybody’s signature to check themselves or their children out of the hospital or to leave the country. Omani women can run for government, are Ministers, can vote, and inherit land.
But understand, this is all on the government’s side, because of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos ibn Said.

What a lot of people don’t understand, is that culture still rules, more than the government can, in Oman.
Yes, I knew all this before I married an Omani. So I have no reason to complain;). I chose a man of traditions from a traditional place, that made all my Muscati, Sharqiyah, and Sohar girlfriends cringe (and that’s not to say that they don’t have their familial traditions also).

“Ya Allah! I COULDN’T DO THAT!” says M from Sohar (whose family is very traditional by all accounts and have a reputation of that to maintain).
“I will only marry someone who lives in Muscat,” S from Barka insists. “Even if that means I never get married.”

“I am going to marry from UK,” a girlfriend whose family is from Izki insists, even though as all of sit there over coffee, we know this is impossible for her, whatever the government laws allow.
No one had to warn me. I understood what life here as I have chosen would mean, what I would compromise and what I wouldn’t.  For see, my husband married me to change some things. I am about as traditional Omani as you can get even for non-passport holder. I fit in with the culture there better than some of my sister-in-laws. I get that even if there are no religious police, there are gossiping village women who function as such even more brutally within Omani families. I get that marrying without the consent of your parents is worse than having sex before marriage for Omani girls from traditional homes. It is like saying “F” you to everything your parents are and stand for.  

Because I seem to represent those traditional things the villagers cherish, and am Islamic and all (I am the only woman there who wears the face veil so my mode of dress is irreproachable for them) I can change those more important things instead of smaller issues like arguing over the headscarf like some expat women married to Omanis waste their time on. I can try to point out where racism is wrong, where gossip is wrong especially when people want to judge on something they arne’t informed about and use our beautiful religion as an excuse so women who don’t know how to raise their voices for themselves can be heard, I can stop ignorant practices like FGM (and alhamdulilah have made good progress so far, no baby girl’s in my family end of the tribe have been chopped recently) ect… But then, my family and branch of the tribe tend to pride themselves on being educated so they listen to reason. Other facets tribes, over tribal pride, don’t listen to reason unless it comes from within the tribe itself, and that from male family members, so there’s a limit on what can be said and changed in the area where my husband is from. I try to pick my battles.
And I am happy. But then, I chose someone who would “allow me to be” didn’t I? And anything he doesn’t agree with I am “excused” by others as not being “Omani” so I have it better than any Omani girl who’d be his wife.

But I knew despite those allowances I still would be living in some time warp of Jane Austen and 1950s America, don’t get me wrong.
I had been going for job interviews. Not quite an expat anymore, and not with my Omani passport yet, employers don’t know what to do. They don’t want to hire me for the expat salary (and aren’t allowed to hire me for less even though I AM willing), lol, but they don’t have the passport to hire me as an Omani yet, so most are waiting to see when  I get it.

One certain job that had passed me over looking for an Omani with my skills my husband asked me about for a cousin of ours. “Her husband has decided she is allowed to work,” MOP tells me.
Her husband has “decided”. And her husband isn’t that backwards of a guy. He’s a pretty likable fellow by the standards we measure Omanis by. So that just goes to show you, 1950s thinking is here to stay, even in 2012.

So while the law says Omani women are allowed whatever, really it depends still on their husbands and families, on where they will work and for what hours.
Unless they can just say, screw all that, and do what they want. I have a sister-in-law who does. That does mean though, that she has to live in Muscat. Life in the village would be too unbearable for her.

Girls school teachers and doctors are still really only the positions husbands want their wives taking in my husband’s village. Or maybe government ministry jobs since those are seen as more respectful. And doctors aren’t a fave, because you know, even if the chick becomes a gynecologist, she still went to a mixed med school.
I don’t know why. I get more respect in company jobs [no incidents]  I’ve worked than government ones where some bright Omani lad thought he’d try his luck with flirting ect… And even if he did, I don’t see how that would affect ANYBODY because you know, I was a grown woman. I could handle it. And I don’t even know how to cold shoulder a wannabee flirt as well as village girls, sooooo… I don’t know why men have a problem with that. I just don’t think they have the confidence [the men I mean] because most of the women are raised from birth to uphold their family honor anyways… And they know well and when to call on their husband or brother to back them if something is REALLY going wrong in the workplace.

WHICH IS RARE, in case everything I’ve just written is used an excuse against some woman’s man for why she shouldn’t work.
I think it is changing, but too slowly. More women have to stand up say, “allow ME?! I don’t think so!”

I’ve heard it said by muslim women that our saying “Islam treats us like princesses” isn’t true. Well, I disagree with this. Islam does treat me like a princess and I have more rights under Islam than I did AS a Western woman living in the West growing up non-Muslim.  But Arab and Pakistani and African cultures (male dominated to begin with) like to take part of Islam out of context and use it as an excuse to do whatever they like. They like to be like “I allow my wife to work if we need money other than that I spoil her like a queen and she can sit at home and do as she likes.”
Unless, do as she likes, is be financially independent, which, Islam ALLOWS. Islam gives women this right to choose to work or not to. It isn’t the choice of her husband. Islam says for a wife to please her husband is her responsibility but none of her Islamic rights are void and overruled by this unless she lets herself be run over.

Anyways, sorry for the long rambling post about what is on my 1950s time warp of a mind.

But alas, what I always think the most ironic thing about the man who doesn’t “allow” his wife to work? That’s always only when he has enough money. When he doesn’t, she ends up being “allowed” despite all the reasons she “shouldn’t” and something “could” go wrong---even if she doesn't want to.


Anonymous said...

"They can travel without a “maharam” and don’t need anybody’s signature to check themselves or their children out of the hospital or to leave the country."

women don't need permission from their husband's to take the children out of the country? really? that's surprising...

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

I said women themselves can leave the country without needing approval... Not sure about with kids but I've seen it done without issue before. I meant, like in KSA, you need your husband to even sign your kids out of the hospital. as their mother, you can't do it on your own ect....

But it is a WHOLE other matter about the culture.

ynotoman said...

regarding Saudi etc.
Its not really confined to women - its any one who is not a Saudi male as close to the Apex as can be got.
As an example a foreign person (male or otherwise) needs permission from 2 bodies to leave - their sponsor and then the government (visa).
I would characterise it as control over any one who isn’t one of ‘them’.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

ynotoman: So true! I actually didn't mean to bash KSA in this post;) men have it worse there in ALOT of things (like the religous police in the malls technically there are to keep the single men away from the malls) but I am just pointing out the things Omani women are allowed by law that people always point out in comparison to say "our women are free" here, at the same time the man who says this "allows" his wife to work. Ironic. As always though, thanks for your well-travelled insights. I always love them on my blog. any trips to Yemen yet?

Anonymous said...

forgive me if i'm mistaken but i thought u were married to a saudi?

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Anon: Um... nope. An Omani. But perhaps you mean Pixie? She sometimes write here too;)

Susanna Di Milo said...

This is a very interesting read, as a western woman in the UK we rarely get an opportunity to hear what Islamic women have to say. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I hate to break your bubble - but in Islam it isn't a woman's right to work outside the home, because it's not an obligation upon her. Her husband has the right to ask her not to do so. If you want to be able to work and maintain financial independence, and you don't want to have to wait around for your husband to 'allow' you, then you need to agree on this before marriage, and even write it into your contract.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Dear anonymous: My "bubble" (nice naseeha by the way sis, work on your wording, is hardly broken.

I believe the prophet told women "you have a right to go out for your needs" and if your needs is maintenance which I consider finanicial independence (I agree with you totally though, you should tell a man this before you get marriedto avoid fighting over it) you have a right to.No man's rights as a husband supercede the rights Allah gave a woman. But a woman should be gentle in taking her rights as well.

For example, discuss these things with a man before you marry him. Put EVERYTHING you want in life IN your marriage contract. Do that, so people can't step all over you. But if you need to go out for maintaining yourself, and your husband won't let you, odds are, he's a control freak, and you can divorce him. I would. Any man who doesn't want me to work in a halal environment just because it challenege his cultural superiority, I would divorce, or in the best, never marry from the beginning.

Bubble never broken, I've always meant to write an Islamic essay about this. I did study the topic. The woman's right to work, and how it is done, Islamically, so as not to hurt her husband's rights over her ect...

Islam is about harmony between the sexes, not equality or lording over one another.