Empowering Omani Women
Ministry of Social Development

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Sultanate of Oman is one of the states that formed the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) economic sphere. As a predominately Arab state, it has strong Arabic traditions and culture where women were traditional seldom seen nor heard and excluded from any economic activity. Women in developed countries may not realise the disadvantages of being born a woman in a traditional Arab culture. Although Islam propagates fair treatment to women as addressed in Surah Al Nisa (Women) in the holy Quran, the traditional strong Arab culture still prevails. Arab women have throughout history experienced discrimination and have been subjected to restrictions of their freedoms and rights. Some of these practices were based on religious beliefs, but many of the limitations are cultural and emanate from tradition rather than religion. These main constraints that create an obstacle towards women's rights and liberties are reflected in laws dealing with criminal justice, economy, education and healthcare. Legally a male guardian represents a woman in all legal affairs such as in marriage as women were considered not capable of making qualitative decisions. This can be explained in the historical context where woman needed guidance due to very early marriages and the historical uneducated status of women to enable them to make the right decisions. Unlike the traditional Arab culture, women in Oman still holds the role of homemakers and they are essential to the upkeep of the family and would take command of all agricultural production while their husbands were away for months at a time. These women work hard to support a family and tend to many matters traditionally seen by the men in their villages. Despite that, they still could not go to school until in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos introduced the universal education policy for both men and women, increasing female attendance in schools from 0% in 1970 to 49% in 2007. In addition, health services to women were also restricted due to the limitation of primary healthcare services in the interior region prior to 1970. With only 2 hospitals in Oman, maternal mortality rate was high as most deliveries were attended by non-medically trained midwives. There were also no dedicated services to cater to women’s needs as most services and economic activities were controlled by men. However when Sultan Qaboos Al Said ascended the throne in 1970, His Majesty accords due attention to women in appreciation of their role, as well as to reinforce their ability to play a full part, in the nation’s development. Many initiatives launched towards forcing women’s participation politically, socially, and in every sector in the Sultanate. In additions, there were directives to support rural women’s projects to increase their capabilities as partners in economic activities. All these initiatives and projects gives strength and confidence to women as they seek to grow, advance and excel in all their endeavours.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
When His Majesty (HM) Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended to power on 27 July 1970, HM emphasised the country’s need for all members of the society to contribute. HM reiterated the sentiment on 9 August 1970 in which he expressed his interest in the issue of women’s roles when he stated that he would never overlooked the education of women who represent half of the society. He encourages women to break away from their isolation in order to avoid a situation where half of the society was paralysed. In 1994, HM again reiterated the important roles of Omani women regardless of where they are to participate in nation building. With HM laying the foundation to eradicate discrimination against women in Oman, the government strives to remove all forms of discrimination through empowering women and consolidating their participation in various fields in a way that ensures their positive contribution to sustainable development. The interest of the Sultanate in the issues of equality and social gender is embodied in the legislations that have not discriminate between men and women such as the Law of Interpretations and General Texts promulgated in 1973 as well as in the Basic Law of the State promulgated in 1996. In May 2005, Oman ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). A committee was formed to follow-up the execution of the provisions of the CEDAW after accession. Oman had also created a national institute for women’s rights with its own statute, and Government subsidies for women’s organizations had been increased. With regards to representation in public life, training programmes were in development to help women stand in elections and hold election campaigns, and to increase self confidence for women. These benefitted women who took part in the Consultative Council elections in 2011. Today, Omani women perform a vital role in society. Oman has felt the impact of women’s efforts in the work force, while maintaining their social role as mothers and housewives. They are preparing future generations and instilling in them Omani values and traditions, while managing family resources. In the academic year 2011/2012, there were 1446 (government and private) schools offering K12 education in Oman. A total of 589K students were enrolled with about 280K or 47% female students. Female teachers constituted 75% of the teaching faculty from a total of From about 35k teachers. In Higher Education, female students constituted about 47% in various government and private institute of higher learning in the Sultanate. This is a clear testimony to HM’s vision and actions to empower Omani women. In the provision of healthcare, every Omani woman has access to antenatal care services which are offered in all parent institutions after a confirmed pregnancy. Oman has also been successful in reducing the maternal mortality rate in childbirth from 27.3 (per 100,000 live births) in 1991 to 15.9 in 2011, a reduction of more than 205% and Infant Mortality Rate of 29 (per 1000 live births) in 1990 to 9.5 in 2011, about more than 71% reduction. Omani women also benefit from better social protection compared to their counterparts in other Arab countries, a global survey on women's rights says. According to a survey carried out by Thomson Reuters Foundation experts in 2013, Oman is the second best country to be a woman in among 22 Arab states. Among the GCC countries, Oman tops the list at rank two. The survey assessed 22 Arab countries on violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women in the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman's role in politics and economy.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Based on HM’s guidance and leadership, women received equal education opportunities as the men. This is unique as not many Arab nations empower their women. With good education and proper healthcare, Omani women are able to pursue their careers, take better care of their children and families and contribute actively to nation building. Today, there are 1.2% of women in politics, 3 women ministers, 29% of the workforce and many successful entrepreneurs are women. There are two female members out of eighty-three of the Consultative/Shura Council, a proportion of 2-4%. The number of female members of the Council of State is nine out of fifty-seven (14/%). Most importantly women’s issues are specifically handled by professional trained women in healthcare, civil services and even in the Royal Oman Police. Women receive services from their own gender group; hence they are able to receive quality services similar to that of the men. Hence, it had been clearly established that Omani women’s contribution was most important not only because it was a unique step in the GCC States, but also because their contribution was viewed as a practical manifestation of the progressive nature of the modernization process in Oman towards an effective contribution from all components of the society.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The implementation process to elevate the status of women in Oman started 43 years in 1970. a. 1970 Promulgation of Basic Statute Law in which women’s rights are stipulated. This becomes the basis for other laws such as the Labour Law and Civil Service Law. b. Free education and healthcare services – development of more than 1000 schools and more than 400 health centers and major hospitals to cater for the well-being of the female citizens c. The Technical Office of the National Committee of Population conducted a detailed study to provide equality between both sexes and women’s empowerment. One of the most important objectives of the study was to provide recommendations in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and based on women’s current situation in the legislations and laws applicable in the Sultanate. These recommendations have been integrated into the objectives of the National Population Policy and parts thereof were later integrated into the seventh five-year plan (2006-2010). In this plan, practical strategies and steps were implemented to raise the economic contributions of women in co-ordination with the civil service organisation. i. Establishment of Business Women Forum at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The percentage of women’s participation as an owner of or a partner in a business was about 11.8%. ii. Financing small and operation projects provided by national programme (SANAD) as the percentage of female beneficiaries of the financing support of the programme was 51% since its establishment in 2002. iii. Organisation of a number of forums and workshops through the OWA to raise women’s economic efficiency and support and direct productive families. d. Formation of special committee to follow-up on the execution of the provisions of the CEDAW. The Committee has three goals: to monitor implementation and foster the provisions of CEDAW; to increase the public awareness of the Convention, through the appropriate media; and to prepare the first national report and subsequent periodic reports on measures taken to implement CEDAW. e. Conduct of Women Symposium to celebrate Omani Women’s Day on 18 October. In the first symposium held in 2009, recommendations were made to review the systems and laws relating to women and the family. The symposium also affirmed the significance of the working woman’s role and the efforts to appreciate it as emphasised by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. Subsequently, the symposiums covered three key themes which include legislations and laws, empowering women, duties and responsibilities and social status. In 2013, 9 papers were also presented during the symposium. The symposium recommended introducing appropriate institutional frameworks for the working woman concerned with developing policies and plans to promote her role in a manner that ensures her effective participation in the process. It also recommended the importance of assimilation from the cultural and social heritage in enhancing the women’s position and eliminating obstacles against her empowerment without being prejudiced in relation to religious, social and domestic aspects. Most importantly, the symposium also recommended reaffirming the contributions of working woman and her equal status with men in all fields of work, in addition to introducing necessary changes in the legislative, educational, social and economic environments to achieve the maximum levels of women’s participation in the process of development.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The main stakeholders entrusted to implement the programme for women are the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Civil Service, Ministry of Manpower, and Ministry of Health, Oman Women Association and all Omani Women as well as the community in general. As women are the primary caregivers at home, their well-being reflects the wellness of the families and the country. Hence, the women-centric programme and services ensure that girls receive proper education, they have rights to inherit properties, decide whom they marry and pursue career of their choice. Every Omani woman cherishes these opportunities by answering the call of their ruler. The Ministry of Social Development remains the custodian of women’s affairs in the country and monitors the well of Omani women and protecting them from poverty and destitute.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The eradication of discrimination against women in Oman took at least a few decades as centuries old traditions and culture cannot be eliminated overnight. From the ascension of HM the Sultan in 1970 to today, it spans about 43 years old. The government spent on education and healthcare which were the primary concern to increase the well-being of the Omani women. Omani women enjoy free education and healthcare. Legislations were also aligned to address women’s issues and protect their well being. In addition, the National Committee of Population under the purview of the Supreme Committee for Planning undertake to review the CEDAW polices in order to align national policies and economic plans to meet its objective. Government grants and support are provided for under the Social Security Act which serves 5 categories of women; widows, divorcees, abandoned women, unmarried girls and women with a family member in prison. It also includes orphans, work-disabled and the aged. Projects carried out by MOSD to improve these women’s livelihood include the housing assistance programme for low income women as well as income enhancement programme. MOSD plays a vital role in providing a number of social services to help Omani women and citizens when needed and provide them with the elements of decent living and assist them in realizing their goals and aspirations. About OMR 244 million (USD$ 637 million) were disbursed 2012 to support 164k beneficiaries. This is over and about the budget for education and healthcare in the country.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
a. Support from HM to drive the initiative - HM encourages women to break away from their isolation in order to avoid a situation where half of the society was paralysed and emphasised that the homeland needs all citizens to continue the march towards progress, stability, and prosperity. b. Access to free education and primary healthcare – Today, there are about 280K or 47% female students in k12 schools and 47% in higher learning institutions. Every Omani woman has access to antenatal care services with an average of 6.1 per pregnancy. Hospital deliveries represent more than 99% of the total as compared to below 50% in the 1960s. Oman has been successful in reducing the maternal mortality rate in childbirth from 27.3 (per 100,000 live births) in 1991 to 15.9 in 2011, and Infant Mortality Rate of 29 (per 1000 live births) in 1990 to 9.5 in 2011. c. Legislations – The interest of the Sultanate in women’s issues and empowering them and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them emanates from its commitment to the progress of women. The Basic Law of the State and the directives of HM the Sultan are in this vein. The methodology of Omani legislation regarding the issues related to women is based on two main principles; equality between men and women in general and consideration of the innate nature of women. The third axis of the Future Vision of Omani Economic 2020 related to human resources development asserts the increase of women’s participation percentage in the workforce to be 50% of total number of women at the age of work. The percentage of women in the workforce was 11.6% in 2007 as compared to only 3.2% in 1993. d. Protection of women against poverty and destitute - The Social Security Act which prevents women from falling into the trap of poverty and destitution. Projects carried out by MOSD to improve these women’s livelihood include the housing assistance programme for low income women and income enhancement programme. In 2012, a total of OMR 121 million (USD$314 million) was disbursed to support about 81k beneficiaries. e. Ratification to the CEDAW – Internationally, Oman affirms its support for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and ratified the Conventions in 2009. Government set up a special committee to follow-up on its implementation. One of the key follow-up activities was the First Omani Women Symposium which aimed at evaluating the systems and laws relating to women and the family. This seminar under the direct auspices of the Sultan of Oman, who had asserted the importance and status of women, was widely covered by the media. The seminar adopted important resolutions. It was decided to have a Women’s Day in Oman annually on 17 October with different themes every year. The slogan for Women’s Day 2010 was ‘Women, partners in development’.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
a. Legislations – The interest of the Sultanate in women’s issues and empowering them and eliminating all forms of discrimination against them emanates from its commitment to the progress of women. The Basic Law of the State and the directives of HM the Sultan are in this vein. The methodology of Omani legislation regarding the issues related to women is based on two main principles; equality between men and women in general and consideration of the innate nature of women. These are then incorporated into the Omani Labour Law and Civil Service Law. The Personal Statute (Family) Law It guarantees women a balanced relationship with men based on justice and fairness, in line with Sharia law. The Social Security Law ensures that women are protected from poverty and destitution. In brief; Omani women enjoy financial privileges independence from her family and husband, a right protected by text of tolerant Sharia law and the laws in force. b. Progress of women in leadership roles – this indicates the success of HM’s vision to give Omani women equal opportunities and eradicate any discrimination against women in the Sultanate. As evidence of the importance accorded to women’s effective contribution to development and their social importance, women were given the honour of membership in the Consultative/Shura and the State councils for the trust HM has in their abilities to influence present and future generations. One noticeably significant aspect of the establishment of the State Council was the appointment of five women out of a total of fifty-five members. This not only demonstrates HM’s eagerness to involve women in this progressive institution, but it also confirms the trust and confidence he places in the capabilities and skills of Omani women to shoulder national responsibilities. c. Regular studies and research - The Technical Office of the National Committee of Population conducted a detailed study to provide equality between both sexes and women’s empowerment. One of the most important objectives of the study was to provide recommendations in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and based on women’s current situation in the legislations and laws applicable in the Sultanate. These recommendations have been integrated into the objectives of the National Population Policy and parts thereof were later integrated into the seventh five-year plan (2006-2010) . In this plan, practical strategies and steps were implemented to raise the economic contributions of women in co-ordination with the civil service organisation.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
a. Illiteracy level of women in terms of providing women with skills required in improving family life and earning a living. In a population census carried out in 1993, women illiteracy level was 54% as compared to 29% for men. However, through the literacy programme conducted at over 140 literacy centers around the Sultanate, illiteracy level of women were further reduced to 9.1 in the 2003 census result. b. Traditional practices still restrict women within their maternal role and other family-bound tasks thus limiting their social and economic participation. Traditionally, a female graduate is expected by society to follow a sequential steps in her life; education, marriage and family obligations. This affects a working woman as it is generally felt that a married woman would not perform as well as unmarried woman due to the possibility of family obligations followed by pregnancies which would mean being absent either due to sickness and maternity leave and child rearing activities. A working woman has to balance work and family. Through the Oman Women’s Association (OWA), a non-government organisation that serve the women and assists women to address cultural and social issues, many members received guidance and awareness which propel them to be productive in the workforce. One such activity is providing literacy education for women who did not receive education. c. Women were ill-informed regarding their rights under Islamic Shari’a and other laws of the state. Again the OWA carried out awareness programme to educate the women about their legal rights. d. Support services such as nurseries, kindergartens, vocational training, and employment related information and access to development loans which can enhance women’s participation in economic activities and increase their contribution to economic development were in short supply. There are continuous efforts by the government to provide support services to enhance women’s contribution to economic development.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
a. Women’s Day - In celebration of women’s achievement in the Sultanate, 17th of October of each year is allocated as Women's Day. This was decided at the 1st Women Symposium held on 2009. b. Improvement women’s economic livelihood - A good indicator on issue of women’s well being in the Sultanate is provided in the Social Security Act which prevents women from falling into the trap of poverty and destitution. This Act serves 5 categories of women; widows, divorcees, abandoned women, unmarried girls and women with a family member in prison. It also includes orphans, work-disabled and the aged. Projects carried out by MOSD to improve these women’s livelihood include the housing assistance programme for low income women, income enhancement programme such as training of women in tailoring and opening of tailor shops for ladies apparel, training of women in Omani traditional handicrafts to support the growth of cottage industries in the regions and training for women with special needs. Since the commencement of the training programme, a total of 1784 women from the interior regions have been trained and graduated. A total 326 women were employed as seamstresses at local tailoring shops while 226 started their own businesses. About 604 of them offer their services from home. This was the largest number and it denoted that after receiving training, these ladies are ready to be an entrepreneur within their own home servicing people within their premises. Altogether a total of 2172 women graduated from such courses. c. Reduction in Illiteracy level among women - In a population census carried out in 1993, women illiteracy level was 54% as compared to 29% for men. However, through the literacy programme conducted at over 140 literacy centers around the Sultanate, illiteracy level of women were further reduced to 9.1 in the 2003 census result. In addition, female students made up 47% of K12 education in 2012 as compared to 0% before 1970. d. Well being of the women - Every Omani woman has access to antenatal care services which are offered in all parent institutions after a confirmed pregnancy. The average number of visits to all healthcare institutions is 6.1 per pregnancy. Today, hospital deliveries represent more than 99% of the total as compared to below 80% in the 1960s. In addition, with a healthy birth rate of 31 per 1000 population, Oman has been successful in reducing the maternal mortality rate in childbirth from 27.3 (per 100,000 live births) in 1991 to 15.9 in 2011, a reduction of more than 205% and Infant Mortality Rate of 29 (per 1000 live births) in 1990 to 9.5 in 2011, about more than 71% reduction. The number of Omani female nurses also increased by 18% reaching a figure of over 10,000 by the end 2007. The yearly growth rate of Omani female nursing workforce is about 4.3%. e. The rise of women in decision-making positions - Today, there are 1.2% of women in politics, 3 women ministers, 29% of the workforce and many successful entrepreneurs are women. There are two female members out of eighty-three of the Consultative/Shura Council, a proportion of 2-4%. The number of female members of the Council of State is nine out of fifty-seven (14/%). Women are also represented by two members in the management board for the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry; one female member represents women in the Businessmen’s Council while the Municipal Council of Muscat has two female members. f. Legislation with specified Article addressing women’s rights - Provisions of the Islamic Sharia (law), which is the basis for legislation in Oman as stated in Article 2 of the Basic Law, grants women their rights and liberates them from the injustices and oppression they suffered. Consequently, social legislation regarding women has been promulgated in compliance with the basics of Islam in this regard, guaranteeing rights and protection for women such as the Omani Labour Law which guarantees a woman’s right to work on an equal footing with men. The text of the law mentions the workers regardless of their gender. Moreover, special articles of the law provide privileges for women, such as the protection of their social role and their particular conditions. The Civil Service Law is the general legislation that organises state administrative employees. The provisions of the law, which are of a general and abstract nature, address employees regardless of their gender.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The Celebration of women’s day on every 17th October which incorporates workshops of interest to women including scientific forum is the epitome of women’s achievement in Oman. This symposium addresses salient points peculiar to women’s needs, interests and activities. Through such sessions, Omani women from all walks of life congregate to share their experiences and celebrate their achievements which serve as positive role models for future generations. Legislations cement Omani women’s rights to equal opportunities and eradicating discriminations in every aspect of their life. At the same time, such legislation ensures sustainability of all initiatives to eradicate discrimination against women in Oman. Omani women are truly empowered to chart their career and pursue their dreams with full knowledge and understanding within the boundary of their culture and religion. Omani women are a force to be reckoned with as they laid the foundation for a strong, supportive and progressive family. With good education, they not only climb the corporate ladder, they are the beacon of hope for the younger generations to transform Oman into the information age. They turned out in droves at the various Community Knowledge Centers (CKC) to obtain digital literacy training and certification so as to leverage on technology to communicate, transact and interact with the government, businesses or with their friends and family members. These women are no longer just a backbone of the Omani Society; they are the sustainable force which fuels the progress of the country. Such latent force is beneficial to any economy as long as they recognise and willing to harness the power of women!

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a. Cultural aspect – Many child-bearing women were forced to withdraw from work market either because of marriage or bringing up children. This is a specific discrimination that is being addressed through encouraging both public and private sectors to open nurseries at reasonable prices out of the belief in the importance of activating the women’s role at work and achieve balance between family obligations and work responsibilities. b. Change in mindset and perception about women’s role – Though the labour law does not discriminate against any gender, some entities require only males for various purposes. The National Committee for Population policy in collaboration with the Ministry of Manpower and Civil Service reviewed the job description and scope and allow women to take up these positions. It required constant engagement and communications with various stakeholders to improve this issue. c. One of the greatest achievements of this initiative is empowering Omani women to manage small projects and start their own businesses. Working against the backdrop of a conservative Arabic culture, a lot of persuasion and guidance had to be done in order to encourage these women from the interior regions to attain training and start their own home-based businesses. However, with support from His Majesty, the Ministry of Manpower and the leaders in the regions, the home-based businesses become a norm in the villages. d. The role played by Oman Women Association – they provide the platform where women can receive proper counselling, guidance and motivation to participate effectively in economic sector. Oman now has 51 women’s associations in various Omani wilayats (districts) and regions to oversee the women’s needs. e. Improving delivery of services to women – Women are deployed as nurses in healthcare, teachers in school and even as policewomen. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), as a one of the largest government organisations provides many services to the public, provides women good career and jobs. There are an increase number of women in decision –making positions in administration in all Royal Oman police directorates and departments. Increasing the number of women involved in decision-making, public services become gender-responsive, more inclusive and managed more sustainably. ROP increased the number of women at frontline of services delivery. Hence, improving the access to services for women beneficiaries and understanding the women's needs and constraints in accessing services and better recognized.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Social Development
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Jamila Salim
Title:   Ms.  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   ja.milas@hotmail.com  
Address:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat
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