Women in Oman make gains in municipal elections
On December 25th last year, Omani citizens voted in municipal elections of wilayats (governorates) for the second time ever. More of both sexes voted with 333,733 men and 289,491 women. This is 100,000 more than last election.
As with many of its neighbours Oman is an absolute monarchy. Sultan Qaboos is the head of state and hereditary leader of Oman since 1970. He is the longest-serving current leader in the Middle East. Qaboos directly controls the foreign affairs and defence portfolio. He issues laws by decree. Oman remains deeply partriarchal and influenced by various tribes, except in a few larger cities such as Muscat. The elected municipal councils enable citizens to be involved in services the municipalities offer to the people including building and repairing roads and public schools.
Sana Al-Maashari, 37 was elected in the province of Amerat while Amna al-Balushi was elected in Seeb both in the governorate of Muscat. Both describe Omani society as more open than it had been in the past although far from perfect. Al-Maashari said: "My father had been appointed by the wali (governor) because he knew some businessmen. I prefer elections because it is all about merit and that gives confidence to the candidates, who are not just named by someone or another".
Balushi did not share the same type of background as Al-Masshari. She campaigned actively in the province of Seeb, giving public speeches and granting the media interviews. A mother of four, Balushi said that her family was supportive and helped her focus on her campaign. She uses social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep in contact with people. Balushi also claimed that she was not voted in beause of her tribe but because people thought she could serve them best.
Maashari hopes to obtain a degree in business school, but wants to pursue medical studies and become a doctor. A UNICEF report in 2011 showed that 83 percent of Omani boys attend high school compared to 81 percent of girls, not a huge difference.
Masshari noted that in her family all got diplomas and her sister is studying in the US. She said the Sultan Qaboos did not support gender discrimination. Her opinion was supported by Dr. Saeed al-Muhurrami, a professor of political science at the University of Sultan Qaboos, located in the capital Muscat: "We have 18,000 students only in this university and among these 18,000, we have more girls than boys. "
Basmah Al Kiyumi , a lawyer with an interest in women's rights, claimed that a female politician "has to fight more than men to get there". She claims that women are still restricted by the religion and customs of Oman. However, even she admitted that the government had made significant progress. In 2008 the government decided to celebrate women each October 17th.
A 2013 study of women's rights in 22 Arab countries rated Oman as second only to the Comoros Islands on women's right and ahead of countries such as Jordan and Egypt. The Ministry of Information says that as of the end of 2015, 41 percent of government workers were women. Kiyumi pointed out that much family law still favors men: "Regarding divorce, child custody, inheritance, permission to have a passport. But things are evolving here." Oman also has made huge strides in health care. In 2001,Oman was ranked number 8 by the World Health Organization.