Muscat – Omanis are taking major strides towards gender equality with women on a par with men in obtaining college degrees, jobs in high positions and social status. Much has changed in social life compared to even a decade ago. But gender equality for women still lags in one important aspect of life – their own homes where they continue to take on the bulk of domestic responsibilities.
Today, in what can only be termed a paradigm shift, it is common to see Omani couples of various age groups in public places together. “In 1980s and 90s, Omani men and their peers enjoyed their time out, while women had their own ladies-only activities at home. Husbands and wives were rarely seen out together in shopping malls or restaurants,” said Mohammed al Harthy, a retired private sector employee.
“Omani men are more open now than ever before. Husbands treat wives as life partners now in everything, rather than treating marriage as a business contract where men control their wives the way they want,” he added.
But in a normal scenario, Omani mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and childcare than fathers even as they are far more likely to be working day jobs.
“The younger generation now believes that Omani traditions do not prevent women from having an equal voice in a marriage. Nowadays, men do almost everything together with their wives, be it going shopping, having evening walks or doing household chores. Marriage is now a shared life; it’s not just about sharing children and the house, but emotions,” said Aziza al Habsi, a mother of three and a social activist.
However, some are of the opinion that the social changes seen today, like couples going out for dinner or walks, has little to do with cultural change but rather improvement in facilities.
“In the recent past, we have got better facilities for couples to go out together, including better restaurants that provide good facilities with privacy as opposed to 20 years back. Also, we can find plenty of walking areas away from the main roads made specifically for this purpose. Malls too are spacious enough for couples to feel free. All these were not very common before,” said Obail al Khaldi, a retired government employee.
According to parents, the new generation of Omani boys and girls are a lot more independent now than ever before. “They are influenced by their travels abroad for studies, as well as by the media. TV shows and cinema portray such activities for couples as normal. So, they grow up with that mindset and their children also see that as normal. And as an open-minded parent, I do not see any problem with that,” said Khalfan al Obadani, a parent of five grown-up children.
On the role of women – staying at home rather than working – some men still prefer their partners to take care of the home. The husband of a housewife, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he is “perfectly” happy to have his wife at home, looking after home affairs.
“There is no particular urgency for my wife to find a job. She can be at home and depend on my income, which is enough to support the family even though it means downscaling the family lifestyle,” he said.
Last year, a study on female opportunities and achievements around the world found that the sultanate scored high in the category of Women in Entrepreneurship (92.52/100 points) and Female Access to Education (89 points). Overall, however, Oman is ranked poorly at 94 out of 100 countries in the Female Opportunity Index 2021, a study on female opportunities and achievements.
Commissioned by Germany-based Digital Bank N26 (The Female Opportunity Index 2021 –a study by N26) the study aimed at shining a light on gender equality in business, government and society. The research uncovered several existing inequalities between men and women in the workplace and beyond. The data shows levels of advancement in equality and career opportunities for women in 100 countries around the world, focusing on political and corporate leadership, gender wage gap, legal support, maternity leave and more.
Oman scored high in the Female Access to Education category, ranking 41st. It also got a high score in Women in the Academic Disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (88.2).
Norway was the highest-ranking country in the index, with high scores for political representation, corporate leadership and women’s legislation. Finland and Iceland ranked second and third.