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Women are integral to Oman vision: now to bring them in

Omani women are highly educated, so why aren’t they represented in the workplace?

focused female muslim scientists holding pipette and glass test tube during experiment in chemical lab Women in Oman are highly educated, particularly in Stem subjects, compared to peers in the Global North but education does not always equal employment Shutterstock/LightField Studios
The overall private sector employment reached 1,997,192 workers as of November 2023

After what has been a remarkable Conference of the parties, where I saw 198 countries agreeing that the era of fossil fuels is over, I rushed back to Oman to participate in the third edition of the Green Hydrogen Summit. 

This time around, and for the first time, the organisers decided to host a women-only side event called Women in Future Energies, where women discussed our trials and tribulations, tips, and what we can do to increase representation in the energy sector. 

Although the discussion was specific to the sector, the topics can be applied to Omani women’s participation in general. Here are some of the main takeaways from my perspective.

1. Omani women are integral to achieving Vision 2040 

Oman was the first Gulf Arab country to grant women the right to vote and run for office and has a rich history of women’s participation that dates back to the 1970s. However, despite being a country of many firsts for women, recent progress in increasing female participation in the workforce remains sluggish as the country grapples with economic development issues.

There is a need for a range of reforms to promote female participation in the workforce, allowing Oman to improve its regional and global gender gap rankings of 12 and 139, respectively.

2. Omani women excel over Global North peers in education

Omani women are highly educated: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) degrees are the norm for females.

While promoting Stem for women has been a constant issue in many countries globally, Omani women engineers exceed their male counterparts in number.

Additionally, women lead the way in entrepreneurship, with more females than males now running their own businesses. 

3. Social structures cause Oman’s low female labour participation

Despite advancements in gender parity, such as the establishment of universal suffrage and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women nearly 20 years ago, Omani women’s participation in the labour force remains low, at about 15 percent, compared to the global average of 39 percent.

Societal structures are the main driver behind this low figure. Omani women still face barriers to participation that are shared across the Gulf. These include conservative social norms and values, the pressure to prioritise marriage and childbearing, and private sector policies that are unfriendly to working mothers.

4. No woman should be left behind

As Oman works on ways to boost and diversify the economy, there is a need for more diversified and inclusive decision-making where more women are represented in traditionally underrepresented sectors, such as fisheries and manufacturing.

Additionally, there is a need to set programmes that train women in such sectors, especially in technical fields, capitalising on a knowledge base that already exists.

Without more women in decision-making roles and more inclusive government-endorsed social and workforce programmes, women’s economic and social progress will remain at a standstill.

5. Male allyship and sponsorship are imperative

The usual advice we give women is to encourage them to network and build their confidence as a way to achieve personal growth and career goals.

While building self-confidence is essential, it is imperative to enable spaces to nurture male allyship and sponsorship as women navigate the traditional, male-dominated workforce.

The network of men who can speak on behalf of women when their points of view are overlooked – particularly those who manage young up-and-coming women at the beginning of their careers – is key to ensuring women receive the upward mobility they deserve according to their performance and aptitudes.

An approach that involves both men and women will not only help create a more productive mindset in the workplace that breaks societal stereotypes, but will also ensure that society as a whole can progress.

Rumaitha Al Busadi is an Omani scientist and environmental advocate working on sustainable solutions to climate change in Oman and beyond. Hailing from Muscat, Rumaitha is named in Reuters’s climate hot list and on the BBC 100 Women list for 2023. She has degrees from Harvard and Oxford University

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