Published July 2, 2013 - Muscat Daily
A few months ago I received a Google alert on Oman’s 1st Extraordinary Women Conference. I was intrigued by the name of the event despite very little media coverage at first, so I went ahead and registered without a clear plan in mind.
All I knew was that I could not miss an event dedicated to women in my own country even if it meant flying up to Muscat during one of the hottest months of the year (something I tend to avoid at all costs).
The original line-up of speakers for the conference included activist and award-winning author Sheryl WuDunn as well as retired boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of famed boxer Muhammad Ali. At the time I was in the middle of reading Sheryl’s latest book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that she co-authored with her journalist husband Nicholas D Kristof of The New York Times. Both Sheryl and Nicholas are on my list of contemporary heroes.
As it turned out, Sheryl and Laila disappeared from the line-up for the conference but were replaced with other extraordinary women, namely India's one and only Kiran Bedi. If you've never heard of Dr Bedi, it's time you put this newspaper down and got online to do some research on one of India's most controversial revolutionaries. If anything, she is an icon of female strength and one of my idols. I have been privileged to meet her not once but twice already this year. I was truly humbled last week during one of the coffee breaks at the conference when she recalled what I had said on my panel at a human rights conference in Montreal that we both spoke at earlier this year.
On the first day of the conference, I slipped into the venue quietly and settled in to observe and take notes. The broad theme of the conference revolved around extraordinary women but ended up covering everything from entrepreneurship and leadership to the science of breathing.
Most of the speakers were interesting and I was glad to see plenty of debate on the struggles of female leadership in Oman. There was plenty of discussion on the glass ceiling and on getting more women into the executive C-suite. As someone who is doing her master's dissertation on women and leadership in Oman, I was intrigued by many of the formal and informal discussions that took place in that room over the course of two days.
Overall, the event was insightful and very useful for networking. However, if I were managing the conference in the future, I would use social media to ensure Omani women far and wide hear of it and are invited to it. I would have liked to have seen more women from different parts of Oman. Although the Omani patriarchal work environment in general is not particularly keen on nurturing female leadership, professional women in the capital area are miles ahead of their counterparts in the regions.
The event was attended by a large number of professional Omani women including members of the State Council as well as leaders in the private sector. I left with 30 pages of notes, a handful of business cards, new friends, and new ideas on how to advance my research as I dive deeper into post-graduate work. Oman's 2nd Extraordinary Women Conference 2014? Bring it on!
For information on the conference, here's their website: Oman's First Extraordinary Women Conference.