Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Being a Muslim Non-Omani Woman in Oman---with an Omani husband: Women's Rights Issues in Oman

Reading an article by Saudi woman Bayyan, posted by Susie of Arabia, I thought about being a woman in Oman I suppose, despite our blog's title, I am not really every girl in Oman. First, I am Muslim, not born that way either. I was an expat non-Muslim here years and years ago however (Brits, Aussies, South Africans, Germans, Americans, Canadians), so I get these expats, truly I do. I am also married to an Omani, from a conservative place in Oman. Even my Omani co-workers, get infuriated by his culture sometimes, as much as they love my husband as a person, saying "how different he is" depsite being "so from there". And, as a Muslim, I follow a very strict interpretation of Islam, stricter in form than what I follow admittedly, for what is right and wrong. I follow what Saudi Arabia "claims" to follow, but does so imperfectly, to tragic circumstance I suppose. So sometimes, girls from Salalah, I get even you too, although I have never been there, and have only male Dhofari aquaintenances it seems.

So, being a woman in Oman. In Oman, I can drive. However, if my husband or family did not wish me to drive, they could prevent me from getting my Omani national ID card, or I could sneak out of the house to apply for it, and, a brother or relative could probably go to the police to pick it up (for me) if they heard I had done so (someone might phone them, despite that being illegal in Oman). So in that case, as an Omani woman, I'd be prevented from travelling, free movement, and driving, since without a national ID card, I can't get a passport either. As I am still not an Omani citizen, and my husband is the one pestering me to get my lisence, this is not an issue for me, but it is for other Omani women, a mystery number the government seems to care nothing about. As I still don't drive... my fault, I face other issues, relatable to women in this situation.

In Oman, technically gender segregation doesn't exist. Although, it does. My husband's family is very hypocritical about gender segregation. It is claimed to come from Islamic intent, although if that is truth, then, well, I wouldn't feel so angry when I am neglected from social situations. The village has a company where many of the wives have equal ownership to men in the company. However, we are expected to have our husbands or brothers speak our business ideas on our behalfs, and the men in the company meet and make all final decisions without our presence or vote. As many more of the women worked in private sector or had formal education than the men, this seems loony bin to me, but whatever... It isn't "against the law" but it simply "isn't done". While it is perfectly fine for me to meet with men at my work, or in Oman's public sector, doing so "in the family" is so not. Don't get it AT ALL.

At work, my male co-workers occasionally say inapproproate things. A joke here, something there. Nothing against me at all, but definately not positive towards women in general. I was told, because I took a month and a half off to have a baby (even though I am the ONLY one working on the project AT ALL out of a group of FIVE male collegues) that I was becomming "an Omani woman" arguing, and "trying to justify" why I didn't get work done. Sorry, my usual caffinate myself and never sleep work routine was called off my doctors who told me to stop having heart attacks while pregnant, y'all. During that month and a half, I still replied to all emails, made reports, corrected spelling, and booked people hotel arrangements even though that isn't even in my job description---up until the day I went to the hospital. I was like, should I text my boss back while I  am having contractions and the nurse is fighting me for my phone?---nah. I returned as soon as I could walk without bleeding and I found childcare for a super newborn. It was really an offensive experience for me, that I haven't forgotten. Since not one of them have produced ANY work at all since making those comments, I feel quite offended, not for me, but for Omani women.

While there are no mutawaa (religious police here) sometimes I see women giving other women looks of disgust (judging their dress) instead of, like, befriending them, complimenting them on more culturally or Islamic suited choices... This comes from what I don't know in the culture. You can say Islam, but not really. Islam isn't really a judge-other-people kind of religion unless it comes down to to worhsipping more than one God/Allah. Even for the strictest of interpretations.

As I don't drive I can almost quote the Saudi woman's article comepletely: Perhaps it was the countless men who assumed that since I was out in public on my own I clearly was asking to be sexually harassed. Or the young men who shamelessly threw their phone numbers at me, or followed me in their cars for long-periods of time despite my obvious lack of interest. Or maybe it was the numerous times when these sexual-harassment car-chases became reckless and almost ended in accidents... I can add, the idiots who honk at me, who try to talk to me despite me obviously not being in need, despite wearing abaya and hijab and even face veiling...

In Canada I can wear abaya and that alone is enough to command respect of a sexual nature for men to leave me be, whereas here in Oman, obviously, something is wrong with the Muslim men if it isn't enough for them, but it is for non-Muslim men.

At my work, when they found out I was married to an Omani, the personnal affairs office asked me to get a "permission slip" from my husband to allow me to work the hours in my work contract. Apparently husband's sue the government sometimes so their Omani wife doesn't have to fulfill her own work contract? Like she was, I dunno, too dumb to know what her job is from the start and signs stuff without understanding? My Omani husband found this offensive more than I did...

While women are allowed to ask for things in their marriage contract, like financial provision after other-party mitagated conditioned divorce, or child custody, or rights a woman wants to maintain for herself that Islamically a man has to agree to, women are discrouaged by the man who wants to marry them, and their male guardians, from doing so, even this protects them, and in Islam, is what we are supposed to do. Asking for, like, 10, 000 OMR maher, seems pointless to me, if one is not going to work out future child custody issues, like if a man might marry another wife, what are the woman's options etc.... I, unlike many many women who complain on the internet (including the Saudi one) know that in Islam, a Muslim man IS allowed to marry another wife and even if you put that he can't in a marriage contract, he can, and that contract part is void in Shariah law. Like if a woman agrees in her contract that she won't go to a Mosque, but later she wants to... Certain rights can't be made legally null despite being a marriage contract. However, protections and incentives can be built in, like alimony to be paid (and right to divorce without return of maher) if a man marries again BEFORE he delivers any maher payment to a future bride, and custody rights.

However, in Oman, much of a woman's marriage is done without her. And can be done, without her knowledge if she is a virgin. Which, to me, is wrong on so many levels... Same with divorce. I don't know any women personally this happened to, however, but it happens it seems, according to other Omani women.

Women's visas are harder to get then men's. That is, assuming, people were abusing the system and bringing women to, like, work in a salon, or as a waitress, then they ended up working as dancers/prostitutes/massage artists, or something, but it really doesn't solve this problem the way, say, good detective/police work does, and set conditions for deportation, with due punishment for sponsors that abuse the category of visa they applied for. But whatever, I don't work for the Ministry of Manpower, so what can I say? From the my experience, the police in charge of enforcing Sponsor-and Workier Abuse of Visa Category are pretty corrupt They will take bribes (like sexual favours) to not arrest the prostitutes, so really, who are we fooling that this new law, did anything towards reducing this number? Do men, who get caught with prostitutes---get deported? Or at least, arrested and forced to undergo medical testing for dicesases? I rather doubt that... And punishing the poor Moroccan girl who was forced to become a dancer/prostitute by an evil sponsor whom she paid a large ammount of money to, to come to Oman in the first place as a waitress who needs to support, like, her blind widowed mother and ten brothers and sisters back in Marrakesh or Casablanca, with jail, fines, and deporatation.... seems wrong somehow. Many of these sponsors are supported by wasta people (I know because my husband tried to fight one of them and the best he could do in the end was buy the poor girl's freedom and return her to her family). Accountability isn't just for the lower castes of society, now it is?

I also, as a woman, am offended, when an old Omani woman has waited years now, for her free government land, and a girl walks in full makeup, and fancy abaya, to the housing Minsitry, and walks out with HER free government land the same day. That's sickening, and so obvious.

For the women out there living in Oman, are there other areas of life in Oman, that I neglected to mention, that make you feel diminished or suppressed as a person in this society?


MissTrip said...

Hello dear
I am quite surprised by your post because I was thinking that Omani men cannot get married with non local ladies.
Concerning the country, what about the life when you are an expat woman. Can you tell me more about what to do?
Many thanks and happy Ramadan

Oum Adam said...

Great read into what it`s like for women living in Oman!

Life in the gulf region becomes a lot harder when you don`t drive... For me personally, I couldn`t imagine living in Saudi where women aren`t allowed to drive. Living in Qatar and having a driving license I truly believe it makes life here a lot easier. Without any public transport and if you are a SAHM or SAHW life here can get pretty boring and depressing. I notice this with my other expat friends here in Doha who don`t drive (and don`t work): it`s very easy to become isolated. My car is my freedom here, I really can`t imagine living here without it or without being able to drive!

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

Miss Trip: Sorry dear, I am not sure what you mean? More about what exactly?

No lol, you heard me right. We broke a law we do not respect and were not really punished for it. It is against the law for Omanis to marry non-Omanis in most circumstances but most Omanis I meet wish me to stay and no one really considers me entirely my "native land" anymore anyways... not even my home government.

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

Oum Adam: Oh Qatar must be interesting sometimes... Qatari friends always seem to have interesting eids...

Yeah being mobile or having a career definately helps... also having kids I guess, so I am never bored;). I don't have time for anything:)

Oum Adam said...

Interesting Eids? I`ve found Eid here quite boring to be honest, haha. Too hot and the malls are too crowded, so there`s frankly no place to go and I end up staying at home. I`ll be traveling to Egypt for this Eid, so definitely looking forward to that. ;-)

Well, I guess when you have older kids life is quite busy. My son is only 8 months old, so there`s not much excitement to be had there, hihi. I look forward to when he is older!

Antonio Andrade said...

My princes, sorry but I laughed when you mentioned they don't let you drive... Just a reminder that we are in 2015. This has nothing to do with religion or safety (this last one, we all are exposed to unsense drivers in Oman). Family may ask for limits, but if you accepted this happened.

I cannot comment on the rest, but I hope I am not one of the 5 people in you project. Chress

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

Antonio: I don't mean me in general... I don't drive because I hate driving in Oman and prefer a being chauffered around. It isn't safer (I think I am safer driver than like my sister-in-law or my husband) however, I prefer other people being resposible, not me. I can drive. I've had my learners since I was 15 years old and drove for five years in my home country without taking the test... I did half the stuff in Oman, barmeel, all that... but then got pregnant and was too fat to fit in the car... and then the ROP lost my tests stuff... and I was like, screw it...

I meant Omani women in general... it isn't their fault if their parents or brothers take away their national ID and forbid them movement. They didn't accept for example, they fought it, even to the point of asking the courts, and the police helped their family against them, despite the law of Oman. It is AGAINST the law of OMAN t stop Omani women from havng national ID or passports but DO please try to find someone in the police who will enforce something to do with family versus children in the SUltanate and you'll know what I mean.

You're not;)...