OMAN: Don’t Be Such a Woman

OMAN: Don’t Be Such a Woman

15400325_10154323825197636_1357682882493959907_nGender inequality is a sensitive, yet significant issue.  Gender inequality (i.e. discrimination) against women and girls affects their education opportunities, choice of career and even their economic advancement.

Gender discrimination is so embedded in many cultures that it has become normalized, people perceive it as being acceptable. Hence, trying to discuss gender inequality can result in extreme responses such as anger, or maybe denial.  It is also common to receive responses of pure surprise from both genders, as if it is an issue that does not exist.

I will try here to my observations of gender discrimination that can be encountered in Oman, keeping in mind that this is not a study. Omani culture is diverse, and is not homogenous.

In my experience, gender discrimination usually starts from day one of a child’s life. Many Omanis still celebrate the birth of a boy more than they celebrate the birth of a girl. You see, a boy carries the tribe’s family name, and thus keeps it going while the girl will be married one day, and her children will take their father’s name.

Until recently (and still today, with many families) an educated woman was considered a person who deserves less respect than an educated man. I believe this was the case worldwide at some point and time, which is why many female intellectuals throughout history used male pen names to publish their work. This is exactly why we did not have many female contributors in science, politics, etc, as this was totally unacceptable in many cultures. Historically, girls were given fewer opportunities to advance in their studies, resulting in much higher illiteracy amongst girls and women. I still hear many men (and women alike) insisting that a woman’s place is the home and that this should be her only choice.

Many universities in this part of the world have colleges that accept men only. I personally graduated from school during a time when the college of engineering in one of Oman’s universities accepted only men. Luckily, this has since changed, and both men and women are accepted.

Moreover, there is obvious discrimination in salaries, allowances, and career development opportunities in many countries in my region. Luckily, this is not true in Oman now. Although, at the time I graduated from university, I had to attain higher grades for my scholarship, compared to the boys who applied at the time. Fortunately this has also changed now, and discrimination in the opportunities given to men and women is much less obvious. However, some discrimination is still institutionalized. For example, if an Omani woman marries a non-Omani man, then she cannot pass her Omani citizenship to her children. At the same time, an Omani man can pass his Omani citizenship to his kids, regardless of his wife’s nationality.

Career choices are also subject to gender discrimination, and men can also suffer from that. I can still remember the comments I heard about men who opted to study nursing. Nursing was seen as a career for women, and men working as nurses received continuous sarcasm.

Women were once only allowed to study education, as a teaching job effectively kept women segregated from men. Studying medicine, for example, was once frowned upon for women. This has changed dramatically, but female doctors are still not widely accepted. Discrimination is obvious even in recreation, as some hobbies are still only acceptable for men.

Discrimination is also common in our daily language. Until recently (and even today, with many families), a man saying the name of one of his female family members in front of other men is considered shameful. Moreover, disrespectful phrases like “don’t be such a woman” are still commonly heard. Furthermore, there are many societal codes forcing specific looks, hairstyles and clothing on women. Any woman refusing to comply with these societal expectations is usually seen as disrespectful. Meanwhile, men are allowed to dress as they please.

In Oman, the tribal system is highly regarded, which means you belong to a huge family and carry their name. If a girl does something unacceptable (say she married without her family’s consent or did something unacceptable in the society), then she brings disgrace the entire tribe. However, if a boy does the same, then he carries his “shame” alone. In other words, women carry the dignity of the whole tribe on their backs. This is more common in rural areas, and less in big cities.

In Oman, women are commonly held responsible for the misbehaviour of men. For example, if a man harasses a woman, the woman will likely be blamed for it. She will be accused of provoking the harassment by wearing something indecent, for instance. Else, she will be blamed for being attractive, walking in the wrong place, talking in the wrong way, etcetera. Of course, the man is excused for whatever he does and is never held responsible. Fortunately, Oman has a strong law now against such behaviour, therefore, this is no longer a common issue here. However, it is unfortunately a critical issue in many countries.

The pressure women suffer to appear, behave, talk, and act in a certain way is huge. As such, the cosmetic surgery businesses are profiting with the active programming of girls to believe that the way you look is more important than anything else. Moreover, marriage is an integral part of our culture, and a lot of men look for beauty above all else, thus putting extra pressure on women. Of course, household chores and raising children are considered a woman’s job only in most houses.

One of the most common ways of discriminating against women is treating them as objects. Many people in this part of the world are aware of the different literature that describes women as jewels, diamonds, or pearls in a shell. This may sound poetic and beautiful, but to many, it is just a way to describe women as fragile, delicate, objects to be owned.

Due to their reduced autonomy, women in Oman are less able to manage daily activities that many women in other countries take for granted. For example, I know many women cannot even go shopping by themselves, nor are they allowed to conduct simple bank transactions. This makes them more vulnerable, and prone to exploitation.

While gender inequality is officially reduced at organizational and political levels, it still continues within the society. It is more difficult to eliminate the discrimination in areas where the law cannot interfere that much. At this point, only raising awareness can help.

These are just few of the points about this critical issue. My aim is not to degrade one part for the sake of the other, because I believe each human being deserves equal opportunity. Moreover, gender discrimination has caused more than enough damage. These days, many households are being run by women. In many cases, women are the sole breadwinners for their families. Women are the ones  who raise the kids, help them with their homework, and put food on the table. Reducing women’s opportunities to proper education, careers and treatment affects the whole society. Empowering women in every way possible brings positive change in the economic situation of any country. Many women are not even aware of their rights. They have been raised to believe that they are less than men, and thus deserve less. The vicious cycle continuous and we need to break it. Awareness is one way. I was luckier than my mother and I want my daughters to be happier than me. The fight continues!

Are you aware of any gender inequality where you live right now? What can be done to change it?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Ibtisam Alwardi of Oman. Photo courtesy of the author.

Ibtisam Alwardi

Ibtisam (at Ibtisam's musings) is an Omani Mom of three, living in the capital city of Oman ,Muscat. After working for ten years as a speech and language therapist in a public hospital, she finally had the courage to resign and start her own business. She had a dream of owning a place where she can integrate fun, play and 'books', thus the iPlay Smart centre (@iplaysmart) was born. Currently she is focusing on raising awareness through social media about parenting, childhood, language acquisition. She started raising awareness on (the importance of reading) and (sexual harassment) targeting school-aged children. Ibtisam enjoys writing, both in Arabic and English, reading and working closely with children. She plans to write children books (in Arabic) one day. Contact Ibtisam at ibtisamblogging(at)

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JAPAN: Work of the Heart

JAPAN: Work of the Heart

Japanese Woman

I read an article recently about “emotional labor.” You know what that is even if you don’t know what that is: the constant conversation going on in your head when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”

You peek into your mental refrigerator, pit Johnny’s constipation against the fact that Sally will come home starved from basketball practice, your husband has high blood pressure and needs to reduce his salt intake, your mother-in-law has a birthday party at three and after all that cake no one will be hungry, and you only have $50 left in your checking account.

All that, not to mention keeping track of who needs picking up when and who needs what medicine and who has which project and oh- there’s a doll shoe, someone will be looking for that later, all of that thatness, is emotional labor.

I bet most women know exactly what I’m talking about, and are started to get exhausted from this post reminding you of the gazillion little things you need to be doing. (Our bath tile needs a good scrub.)

We are all doing way too much of it, with no remuneration (wouldn’t that be nice?) or so much as a thank you.

It may be more obvious, here, in Japan, where the gender divide is still a chasm and fathers spend all of their waking hours at work. The imbalance between the sexes is so off that you don’t need a scale (which I alone know the location of.)

For anyone who is reading this and thinking, what’s the big deal? I can say with some confidence that you are not pulling your weight in this area, or you would certainly know exactly what the deal is, and that is is enormous.

It’s easy enough to see how this happens: when you are a couple, keeping track of the minutiae of life for two is doable. If you’re like me and have a husband who doesn’t quite grasp which food items go in the fridge, and that the aloe gel is a) not a food item and b) not fridge space worthy, then you take these things on by default. (Yes, the aloe incident actually happened.)

But when you become a three person family, or more, with multiple schools and activities and interests and needs, then this becomes a massive task. And Mom is still doing it all.

What’s the solution? I wish I had a clue. Even when this kind of micromanagement is a career, it’s still female dominated and therefore underpaid if not outright disparaged. I’m thinking of all my secretaries, assistants, and teachers out there, but please feel free to add to this list.

I read this online, and I thought, “There is a term for this. There is a reason I am so constantly exhausted emotionally. I’m not alone. And other people realize that this work has value.” It’s too bad none of those people currently live in my house, but baby steps are better than nothing.

So, to all the other moms out there holding up the sky: what you are feeling is real. It isn’t fair, no, but you aren’t imagining it. I don’t have any answers, but sometimes acknowledging there is a problem is the biggest step.

How do you divide emotional or mental take in your family? And more importantly, how can I get the other three people I live with to start doing more of this for themselves?

This is an original post by World Mom, Melanie Oda in Japan. 

Photo credit to cpo57 . This photo has a creative commons attribution license. 

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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KOREA: C-Section Rates and Gender Equality

KOREA: C-Section Rates and Gender Equality

I was 32-weeks pregnant with my son when we moved to Seoul from Seattle. When my spouse first got this assignment my knowledge of Korea was admittedly narrow, but because of all the research I had been doing on pregnancy and childbirth, the one bit of information that I did know was that Korea had an even higher rate of C-Section than the United States. The rate of c-section in the US is a staggering 30%, while here in South Korea it is an even more staggering 37.7%.

One of the things that is surprising about this number is that, in a study conducted in 2000, when polled, the majority of pregnant South Korean women said they prefer vaginal delivery. The study was done when the c-section rate was nearing 40% and researchers wanted to know if this rise had to do with women’s desires and attitudes towards childbirth. The study concluded that the rapid rise in C-section rates was related to health care practitioners and the health care system, not women’s attitudes or desires.

So, what’s happening? In a country that has skyrocketed to first world status in 50 short years, why aren’t women getting the medical care they desire?

Confucian ideals and principles lie at the heart of this rapidly modernizing society. They are the subtext to every interaction. The main principles of Confucianism can be very broadly summarized as:


  • Follow the Golden Rule
  • Be loyal to your family
  • Respect your elders and superiors
  • Worship your ancestors
  • Know your role in society and fulfill it to the best of your ability

While I do not disagree in theory with all of these principles, their effects on this society have led to an inequity among men and women that, I believe, leads to difficult circumstances for women when it comes to birthing. Being loyal to family and respecting elders and superiors means being, if no longer submissive, at least deferential not only to the men in their lives but to anyone whose position in society is “higher” than theirs.


Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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KENYA: The Help

Before moving to Kenya, along with updating our vaccines and strategically packing our belongings to fit our meager bag allowance, one of the things I prepared myself for was the possibility of having house help.  Both my husband and I would be working and we’d be living in a rural area, so we’d need someone to help look after our son.  And unless I wanted to spend 20 hours a week washing our clothes by hand, we’d need to hire some house help. I’m not exaggerating when I say I hated the idea.

I consider myself hardworking and self-reliant, so I hated the idea of someone doing something for me that I could do myself.  I’m a private person, so I hated the idea of someone observing, maybe judging, the interior of our lives.  I’m a natural people pleaser, so I hate the idea of being someone’s boss in my own home.

More than anything I hated the prospect of putting someone in, what I thought, was a subservient position and, if I’m being honest with myself, bringing someone in who would be a continual reminder of the uncomfortable inequities of the world.  Someone who could see what we spent on things like groceries and petrol and compare that unfavorably with her monthly salary.

And coming from the US, there was probably something in the recesses of my subconscious that was reflexively uncomfortable with being a light skinned person hiring a darker skinned person to clean my unmentionables.  It’s a relationship loaded with historic and cultural baggage. (more…)

Mama Mzungu (Kenya)

Originally from Chicago, Kim has dabbled in world travel through her 20s and is finally realizing her dream of living and working in Western Kenya with her husband and two small boys, Caleb and Emmet. She writes about tension of looking at what the family left in the US and feeling like they live a relatively simple life, and then looking at their neighbors and feeling embarrassed by their riches. She writes about clumsily navigating the inevitable cultural differences and learning every day that we share more than we don’t. Come visit her at Mama Mzungu.

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