International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. Fatma Tawfik is an international researcher from Egypt. In her text entitled “Public Policy Representation: Increasing Women's Political Representation in Oman“ she writes about the role and position of women in Oman with the emphasis on women's political representation.
Although women obtained the right to vote and run in elections in Oman in 1994, their presence in the political arena is almost non-existent, and women's political representation in power is one of the lowest ten countries in the world. Therefore, the paper created several alternatives to confront this problem: Allowing the formation of political parties and civil society organisations, changing the electoral system, setting a quota for political representation of women, and maintaining the electronic system in the election with representation of women in political arena.
Key Words: Oman, Women, Gender, Political representation, Elections, Power.
The United Nations has adopted the right to gender equality since its inception, as it is included in its first article of the Charter of the United Nations. Several purposes are included in this achievement, like international economic, social, cultural and humanitarian cooperation and the promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination on gender, language or religion and no distinction between men and women.
The gender gap index also shows the widening gap in political and economic representation and even in receiving education between men and women in the Sultanate of Oman.
Omani women gained the right to vote and to run for political office in 1994, but this legislation was nothing more than sham, as it served only a small number of selected people approved in advance by the government.
Considering the legal and constitutional aspect, each of the basic laws in the "constitution" that was formed in 1996, and guarantees in its twelfth article the principles of justice, equality, and equal opportunities for all citizens of the Sultanate, and the seventeenth article that prohibits discrimination between citizens on the basis of “sex and origin” language, religion, sect, homeland or social status is the constitutional engine to guarantee women's political equality.
Women's political representation began to take a new turn in 2003, when all women were actually allowed to vote and run for a seat in the elections, but although women entered the Omani Parliament in the same year, only two women were elected to represent people in the capital, Muscat, since then, female representation has not exceeded 2.5%.
In the same context, the state of Oman appointed Sheikha Aisha bint Khalfan bin Jameel Al-Sama to be the head of the National Authority for Industrial Handicrafts in 2003, and Sheikha Aisha was the first woman to hold this position in the Sultanate of Oman and the Arab Gulf countries, and this position is equivalent to the rank of minister, but without an actual ministerial portfolio.
Accordingly, the Civil Service Law was promulgated by Royal Decree No. 120/2004 to ensure that women enjoy the same job opportunities and benefits as their male counterparts, and even guarantee equal wages.
In implementation of the previous decision, Sultan Qaboos issued a royal decree appointing Dr. Rawia bint Saud Al Busaidi as Minister of Education in 2004, and Dr. Rawia became the first woman minister in Oman to hold a ministerial portfolio.
Also, the Sultanate of Oman ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2006, as a positive step and an expression of its international commitment to achieving equality for Omani women and eliminating the causes of discrimination against them.
Therefore, in 2007, Sultan Qaboos of Oman issued Royal Decree No. 107/2007 appointing 15 women for the first time in the Majlis al-Dawla in Parliament, out of 70 members, making women’s representation equal to 20%. Pending the first term (2012-2016) of the State Council, four women were elected out of 192 seats, which makes the representation of women in this council equal to 2.1%. In its second term (2016-2020), seven women were elected out of 202 seats. That is, 3.5%.
As for the Shura Council, the proportion of women's representation has not changed since women were allowed to run for office and vote, and they entered the council for the first time since 2003. The percentage of women in the council has not exceeded 2.4% to date.
In the same way, even after the council elections in 2019, where only two women won parliamentary seats out of 86 seats, equivalent to 2.3% of the council seats, and thus the Sultanate of Oman was ranked 184 out of 187, followed by Vanuatu with 1.9% and Papua New Guinea. At a rate of 1.7%, and from the Arab region is the State of Yemen, which does not have any female representation in the Legislative Council, according to the monthly ranking of women in national parliaments by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The representation of women in the executive authority did not differ, but it remained low compared to their male counterparts, as the last cabinet, which was appointed in August 2020, included only three women, “13%” of 23 members.
In the same context, women's representation is completely non-existent in the judicial system in the Sultanate of Oman, as according to the report "Women in the Judiciary in the Arab Countries" by the United Nations ESCWA, there are no women judges in Oman.
The problem of women’s weak political representation in the Sultanate of Oman can be attributed to several complementary reasons. The first of them is the continuous competition between the main tribes in Oman, which often leads to the delay of women from the public and political arena, as the Qahtani and Adnani tribes compete for higher representation in the House of Representatives. Usually, each tribe nominates candidates informally, forming pacts and mobilising voters to ensure that their candidates win even before the election.
The dominant tribes in the Sultanate of Oman follow the patriarchal system in their structure, and men control social, political and economic affairs in public affairs, while the role of women is more centralised within the family, and this makes women’s access to tribal channels and their nomination by their tribe a difficult task.
The second reason is related to the nature of the political system of the Sultanate of Oman, which makes it difficult for women to appear in decision-making positions, due to the rejection of basic rights and freedoms in Oman, such as the prohibition of political parties and human rights associations, as well as the absence of any real political opposition against the government and the king, and the prohibition of any public gatherings, without official permission from the government.
Thus, the prohibition of human rights NGOs that discuss women's legal and political rights by the Omani government makes it difficult for women to obtain the knowledge and training necessary to run campaigns or hold positions in Oman. Although some women's organisations are formed in Oman, they often focus only on vocational training, health care, and literacy campaigns, and does not focus on issues of women's political representation.
Third, the electoral system followed by the Sultanate of Oman, which is based on the individual election system for candidates and the absence of an electoral system for party lists, is one of the aforementioned due to the prohibition of the formation of political parties, what could be the greatest opportunity for women to run and be elected.
The winner-takes-all “First-Past-The-Post” electoral system, which the Sultanate follows, is one of the most systems that prevent fair representation of minorities, as it is based on granting the parliamentary seat to the candidate with the largest number of votes, even if those votes are just a small percentage of the total number of voters. However, looking at other forms of electoral/ voting systems such as proportional and mixed electoral systems, it can be noticed that they are fairer to the representation of women and minorities.
Fourth, the lack of a representative gender quota law for women in the parliamentary electoral system of the Sultanate of Oman, and the representative quota is one of the pillars of increasing women’s political representation in Parliament. This especially in societies that limit women’s participation in public and political work based on custom, customs and traditions. Seeing the impact of a representative quota for women in political action in several neighbouring countries such as the United Arab Emirates, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, led to a significant increase in the rates of women's participation in parliaments in those countries.
All of these factors limit the ability of Omani women to organise independently and put pressure on the government to expand their political rights.
On the positive side, in 2019, the Sultanate of Oman applied for the first time the electronic election system in the Shura Council elections, in support of the Sultanate’s efforts to develop electoral mechanisms and ensure the accuracy and credibility of the results. This is one of the most important developments that support the empowerment of women’s political participation, as women are granted an opportunity to cast their vote without obstacles that may prevent them from going to the polls.
Parties involved in the problem:
There are many alternatives that can be identified to enhance the political participation of women in the Sultanate of Oman, as follows:
1- Allowing the formation of political parties and civil society organisations:
This alternative is based on changing the laws that prevent the formation of political parties and civil society organisations in the Sultanate of Oman so that among the tasks of political parties is to nominate competitors for electoral seats in the House of Representatives and localities. It also includes the nomination of electoral lists that include a number of women candidates, while ensuring the tasks of organisations Civil Society Reach out to women in hard-to-reach areas, and to women and men within tribes to help spread ideas of gender equality and enhance women's political participation.
2- Changing the electoral system in Oman:
This alternative is based on changing the electoral system concerned in the Sultanate of Oman from the winner-takes-all system, which is an electoral system belonging to the family of majority electoral systems, to a system more suitable for women's political participation, such as electoral systems belonging to the family of proportional systems or semi-proportional systems. This includes the mixed proportional system, which was successful in New Zealand and Germany in increasing the rates of women's representation and participation in the political field after changing the electoral system from the system that depended on the majority system.
3- Setting a gender quota for political representation:
This alternative is based on the development of a new law that grants a specific representative quota for women in order to increase their representation and participation in the political arena, especially in the parliament, and in localities. Adding such a quota has succeeded in increasing the rates of women’s participation in legislative bodies in neighbouring countries such as the United Arab Emirates, where the percentage of representation in the Federal National Council reached 50% and the Arab Republic of Egypt, where the percentage of representation reached 27% in the House of Representatives.
4- Maintaining the current electoral system:
This alternative is based on maintaining the electronic election system that the Sultanate has adopted since 2019, in the Shura Council elections, as part of the mechanisms adopted by the Sultanate to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the election results.
This public policy paper recommends that all three alternatives should be implemented urgently, in order to ensure a real change in the political system to guarantee that women have the opportunity to run in elections, secure a seat in decision-making positions, and have access to equal political representation.
1- Arif Ali, “Omanis Welcome Appointment of Woman Minister”, Arab News, March 2004, Accessed in: 9 December 2022 Available at:https://www.arabnews.com/node/245605
2- Fair Vote, “Winner-Takes-All Problems”, Accessed in: 14 December 2022, Available at: http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=2100
3- Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Monthly ranking of women in national parliaments”, November 2022, accessed in: 9 December 2022, Available at: https://data.ipu.org/women-ranking?month=11&year=2022
4- OCHR-Oman, “Women in the Judiciary: Oman”, the Omani Center for Human Rights, August 2020, Available at: https://ochroman.org/eng/2020/08/womenjudiciary/
5- Rafiah al-Talei, “Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa 2010 - Oman”, Freedom House, March 2010, Available at:https://www.refworld.org/docid/4b99011f86.html
6- UN ESCWA,“Women in the Judiciary in the Arab States”, 2019, pg.25, Available at: https://archive.unescwa.org/sites/www.unescwa.org/files/publications/files/women-judiciary-arab-states-english_0.pdf
7- UN Women, “Concepts and definitions: Gender equality”, available at: https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm
8- United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies, “UN Treaty Body Database”, Accessed in: 9 December 2022, Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?Treaty=CEDAW&Lang=en
9- World Bank, “Report: Gender Equality Index 2021”,2021, Available at:https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf
1- البوابة الإلكترونية لحكومة سلطنة عمان، “حق التصويت للمواطن العماني"، متاح على:https://omanportal.gov.om/wps/wcm/connect/AR/site/home/cr/cr7is/cr75/
2- سامي حامد، "تعيين أول وزيرة في تاريخ سلطنة عمان والخليج العربي"، الشرق الأوسط، مارس 2003، متاح على:https://archive.aawsat.com/details.asp?article=155953&issueno=8862#.Y5NOruxByrc
3- سامية الجبالي، "انتخابات “شورى” عُمان: توليفة ديمقراطية آن لها أن تنضج"، البيت الخليجي للدراسات والنشر، 25 أكتوبر 2019، متاح على: https://gulfhouse.org/posts/3832/
4- وزارة الخارجية العمانية، "مجلس الوزراء: معلومات عن الوزراء"، تاريخ الولوج: 9 ديسمبر 2022، متاح على:https://fm.gov.om/about-oman-ar/government-ar/ministers-profiles-ar/?lang=ar
About the author:
Fatma Tawfik is political science graduate from the Beni-Suef University. She is active as researcher, social activist in the field of civic engagement, writer, debater and peer educator. Research interest covers the refugee relief, social and gender justice, freedoms and liberties in the MENA and Arab world. She is currently attached to the Institute for Arab Research and Studies from Cairo.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IFIMES official position.
Ljubljana/Cairo, 12 March 2023
 IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018. and it’s publisher of the international scientific journal „European Perspectives“.
 UN Women, “Concepts and definitions: Gender equality”, available at: https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm
 سامي حامد، "تعيين أول وزيرة في تاريخ سلطنة عمان والخليج العربي"، الشرق الأوسط، مارس 2003، متاح على: https://archive.aawsat.com/details.asp?article=155953&issueno=8862#.Y5NOruxByrc
 United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies, “UN Treaty Body Database”, Accessed in: 9 December 2022, Available at: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?Treaty=CEDAW&Lang=en
 Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Monthly ranking of women in national parliaments”, November 2022, accessed in:9 December 2022, Available at:https://data.ipu.org/women-ranking?month=11&year=2022
 وزارة الخارجية العمانية، "مجلس الوزراء: معلومات عن الوزراء"، تاريخ الولوج: 9 ديسمبر 2022، متاح على: https://fm.gov.om/about-oman-ar/government-ar/ministers-profiles-ar/?lang=ar
 UN ESCWA,“Women in the Judiciary in the Arab States”, 2019, pg.25, Available at: https://archive.unescwa.org/sites/www.unescwa.org/files/publications/files/women-judiciary-arab-states-english_0.pdf
البوابة الإلكترونية لحكومة سلطنة عمان، “حق التصويت للمواطن العماني"، متاح على: https://omanportal.gov.om/wps/wcm/connect/AR/site/home/cr/cr7is/cr75/