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Women’s Political Participation in Oman. Rafiah Al-Talei Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow National Endowment for Democracy December 13, 2006. Roadblocks to Progress.

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women s political participation in oman

Women’s Political Participation in Oman

Rafiah Al-Talei

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

National Endowment for Democracy

December 13, 2006

Roadblocks to Progress

Please note that the views expressed in this presentation represent the opinions and analysis of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy

outline of presentation
Outline of Presentation

I. Introduction

II. Women and Elections: Majlis al-Shura

III. Women and Political Appointments: Majlis al-Dawla and Ministries

IV. Women and NGOs

V. Recommendations

i introduction general facts
I. Introduction: General Facts
  • Oman is a Sultanate
  • Population: 3 million (577,000 non-nationals)
    • 49.5% of the population is female
    • Literacy: Male 82.0 %; Female 65.4%
  • GDP Per Capita (PPP): $13,100
  • 75% of Omanis are Ibadi Muslims
  • Freedom House Rating, 2005: Not Free
  • Universal Suffrage since 2003 for adults over 21 (previously had 25% suffrage, by selection)
  • Political parties are illegal
state institutions
State Institutions
  • Three Branches of Government: Executive, Legislative, Judiciary
  • Executive: Sultan, Prime Minister (an office held by the Sultan), & Council of Ministers
  • Legislative: Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura) and Council of State (Majlis as-Dawla)
  • Judiciary: Shari’a courts and regular courts
the sultan
The Sultan
  • As head of state, the Sultan:
    • serves as President of Council of Ministers;
    • appoints & dismisses ministers, governors, judges
    • issues & ratifies laws, declares war and peace
    • is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces
    • is the governor of Oman’s central bank
    • is “inviolable.” His orders must be obeyed (Article 41)
    • has served as prime minister since 1972

Sultan Qaboos

(in power since July 23, 1970)

the legislature
The Legislature
  • Council of State (Majlis al-Dawla): an appointed body of 58 members, picked by the Sultan, established in 1997
  • Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura): an elected body of 83 members, established in 1991
  • Both bodies advise the Sultan on all matters of state
  • Women have been able to run in Majlis as-Shura since 1994
  • 2004 Shura elections: 15 of 509 candidates were women
  • 2004: 2.4% of Shura members were women
  • No. of women candidates has decreased from 27 (1997) to 21 (2000) to 15 (2003)
  • 9 of 58 (15.5%) members of Majlis al-Dawla are women
  • Women need a male relative to obtain a passport initially
  • Men, but not women, are eligible to get state land.
  • Women married to non-Omanis cannot confer citizenship to their children
  • 20% of women participate in work force
  • Women have unequal access to state universities
ii women and majlis as shura elections
II. Women and Majlis as-Shura Elections

A. Background

B. Obstacles for Candidates

C. Obstacles for Voters

D. Obstacles Within the Majlis al-Dawla


1994: First Women Elected in Oman

Shukoor al-Ghammari(Now a member of Majlis al-Dawla)

Taiba al-Mawali(Imprisoned Sep. 2005 – Feb. 2006)


2001–Present: Two New Women Elected

Lujaina Darwish

Rahaila al-Riyami

background on majlis as shura
Background on Majlis as-Shura
  • Advisory body with limited powers to propose legislation
  • Reviews economic & social legislation prepared by ministries. Also examines drafts proposed by Sultan
  • Does not express its views on defence, foreign policy or any other sensitive topic
  • May call ministers for questioning; is not permitted to respond to their answers
  • Has 83 members elected by universal suffrage for 4-year renewable terms
  • Its president is appointed; its 2 vice presidents are elected by the 83 members
women as candidates social and cultural obstacles
Women as Candidates: Social and Cultural Obstacles
  • Tribalism (male domination)
  • Religion
  • Economic dependence
  • Lack of awareness and confidence
  • Lack of public exposure & political knowledge
  • Women & men are encouraged to occupy separate spaces in both public & private life
  • Women are expected to uphold family honor Reputation of families is very important
women as candidates political and legal obstacles
Women as Candidates: Political and Legal Obstacles
  • Limited freedoms of expression, e.g. criticism of government
  • Limitations on campaigning (especially in rural areas) e.g. travel
  • Limited freedom of association

All apply to men, but affect women candidates more

obstacles to women as voters
Obstacles to Women as Voters

2003 elections: 95,000 women registered to vote out of 262,000 total registrations (36.3%)Total voter turnout: 75%

Sociocultural obstacles include:

- lack of education

- lack of awareness

- family relations

- tribalism

- religion

- economic dependence

Media insufficiently covers elections


A woman voting

A Bedouin woman

obstacles within the majlis
Obstacles Within the Majlis
  • Little power to criticize
  • No power to rebut ministers
  • No power to propose legislation
  • No financial support except small salary
  • No trust from the people that the elected member can change
  • Most members behave as part of the government. This discourages voting and new candidates from running
iii women political appointments majlis al dawla and ministries
III. Women & Political Appointments: Majlis al-Dawla and Ministries
  • Background
  • Political obstacles: criteria for selection

Majlis al-Dawla

majlis al dawla
Majlis al-Dawla
  • Majlis al-Dawla(Council of State) established in 1997
  • Presents proposals and prepares studies that help in executing development plans
  • Charged with finding solutions to financial, social, economic problems
  • Reviews draft laws proposed by government, presents opinions to Sultan and ministers in cooperation with the Consultative Council
  • 4 of the 50+ ministers are women (tourism, higher education, social development, plus 1 without a portfolio)
  • 13% of high administrative positions within government are women
  • 20% of all government employees are women

The Four Women Ministers of Oman

Rajiha Abdel Amir: Tourism

Rawiya al-Busaidi: Higher Education

Sharifa al-Yahyai: Social Development

Aisha as-Siyabi: Crafts

criteria for political appointments
Criteria for Political Appointments
  • Official Criteria:
    • Appointee has provided great services for the state
    • Has long experience in the field of interest
    • Has served as a high executive in government
  • As perceived by the people:
    • Appointee is not politically oriented
    • Was potential opponent, now co-opted into silence
    • Appointment maintains a tribal balance
    • Appointees never know in advance that they are being considered for appointment. Once appointed, they cannot refuse the honor
iv women and ngos
IV. Women and NGOs
  • The Omani Women’s Association (OWA) has 45 branches across the country
  • 3,000 members belong to the OWA
  • There are no specialized Women’s NGOs
  • Many women work in charity associations and associations for the disabled
  • One women’s NGO, Women in Focus, failed: deemed illegal
women and ngos political obstacles
Women and NGOs: Political Obstacles
  • NGOs dealing with politics or human rights are not allowed
  • Exisiting NGOs may not engage in political activity
  • All or most activities need an official approval from the ministry of social development
  • Transparency in NGO-related laws is absent
  • All NGOs need official approval to work with, or receive funding from, non-Omani organizations
women and ngos social obstacles
Women and NGOs: Social Obstacles
  • People are not encouraged to work in NGOs—considered useless, ineffective
  • No considerations for familial duties and constraints (e.g. NGOs don’t provide child care)
  • Women in families aren’t encouraged to participate in social work voluntarily, especially if they will be working with men
  • Government employees tend not to risk defying government officials
v recommendations
V. Recommendations

Majlis as-Shura

  • Create independent body to oversee elections
  • Within this body, have several committees
    • -one to provide education on electoral process
    • -one to address women voters in particular
  • Create government program to educate women in particular regarding political rights and electoral process
  • Involve women’s NGOs from the start to help design and implement voter and civic education campaigns
  • Provide skills training and consultation for women candidates
  • Encourage media to start covering elections early and in-depth
  • Should there be women quotas?

Majlis al-Dawla and Ministers

  • Women’s issues should be a priority (for 10 years no action has been taken on Omani Women Strategy)
  • Collaborate with women NGOs and qualified individuals to develop a strategy for how best to effect change
  • Cooperate with Majlis as-Shura to emphasize women’s rights and issues
ngos and civil society


NGOs and Civil Society
  • More political liberalization is necessary to permit more discussion and practice of activism:
    • Freedom of association
    • Freedom of expression to discuss political/cultural/other issues
    • Willingness from the government to allow people to be active citizens
    • Freedom to cooperate with foreign NGOs
    • Give NGOs autonomy, so they can freely choose to work with or criticize/challenge the government
    • Allow NGOs and individuals to lobby for their interests
  • NGOs should write independent assessments, to complement national annual reviews, for certain international treaties
general recommendations
General Recommendations
  • Create independent high council for women’s affairs
  • Raise awareness about existing rights, as well as international treaties, such as CEDAW (ratified by Oman) that relate to women
  • Initiate Oman-specific gender-sensitive programs to overcome male-dominated system
  • Shura and Dawla should have more independence to propose legislation
  • Reduce constraints on freedoms of association & expression
  • Make sure all awareness programs reach out to Omanis who live in rural areas, with less access to information
what international community can do
What International Community Can Do
  • Help form new institutions to focus on women’s affairs
  • Strengthen existing institutions dealing with women’s affairs
  • Assist with gender analysis of legal framework on elections to provide advice & identify indirect discrimination
  • Support civic-education campaigns that include information about what democracy and democratic values are
  • Encourage the exchange of information and best practices to advance women’s participation in elections
  • Monitor Omani government’s compliance with standards and treaties regarding electoral and women’s rights, using media to highlight the application of these norms
  • Galvanize support among international NGOs & multilateral institutions (e.g. women’s groups and human rights organizations) to pressure Oman to liberalize
women s political participation in oman1

Women’s Political Participation in Oman

Roadblocks to Progress

Rafiah Al-Talei

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

National Endowment for Democracy

December 13, 2006