Published April 28, 2010 - Muscat Daily
Less than a week ago the female population of Dhofar witnessed their first (and hopefully not their last) meeting with Oman's Minister of Social Development, Her Excellency Dr. Sharifa Khalfan Al Yahyai. The aim of the meeting was to discuss women's issues in Dhofar. In my opinion, this was a positive step taken by the Ministry to address some of the issues we face here in the South. We tend to feel a little neglected sometimes.
To my secret delight, the meeting was informal, a little discreet, and with barely any media coverage at all (I approve) and the buildup to it was a little hush-hush at first too. The names of the attendees were selected very carefully and invitations were sent out quietly. I was privileged enough to be among them. Most of the attendees were females in high positions in the government sector and private sectors.
There were about 90 females present from every corner of Dhofar, and quite an eclectic mix, too. Doctors, school headmistresses, volunteers, managers, social workers, writers, poets, researchers, businesswomen, etc. Seeing all these women in one place together moved me. It was, to say the least, empowering. For other women in Oman it may seem completely normal and unimportant, but for Dhofar this was new. We've become accustomed to seeing each other at weddings and other social occasions, but rarely are we privileged enough to see such a large group with their work diaries and car keys!
One of Her Excellency's first remarks as she looked at the congregation of women was "You have come a long way and you have overcome so many obstacles. There is nothing stopping you from achieving your goals and being active members of society." She spoke the truth. Ten or even five years ago it would have been strange to spot a young woman driving a car. Men would still feel nervous about speaking to a female cashier at a bank. There were very few women in high positions in the government and private sector. There were no women from Dhofar in the media. Most women still wore the face veil. There were very few women in Dhofar completing their higher studies, and you could forget about seeing any female executives at this end of the country!
Look at Salalah now! So much has changed, but we still have a lot more to do. I know we're blessed to be living in a such a peaceful country, but that doesn't mean we don't face any difficulties. Women in Dhofar have to deal with a lot. Society in Salalah is extremely conservative. A large percentage of women still suffer from huge social pressure, polygamy, lack of personal freedom as well as privacy. It's not easy.
Her Excellency touched upon several topics concerning women. One of the main ideas she was trying to communicate to us was that the educated and working women of Dhofar should become more active in volunteer work programs and in the women's associations in the province (there are about eight of them). I totally agree. If we use our brains to do good, change can happen more quickly. Women are more mobile now and definitely more flexible.
It was an informal discussion, and I thank her for taking the time out to come down to Salalah and exchange ideas and thoughts with us. I believe that change has to start from within. We can't wait for the government or some other authority to pave the way for us. Change can happen if we create it. To all the women out there who are nervous about what people will think as they break out of their shells, take one step; take it straight ahead, and others will follow. Throw a pebble in the water and watch the hundreds of ripples begin to form. Change is coming.