Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Oman

Committee on Elimination
of Discrimination against Women

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the initial report of Oman on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report Sheikh Mohammed Said Al Kalbani, Minister of Social Development of Oman, said that it contained details of legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures taken by Oman to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified in May 2005, on a national level. Oman had created a national institute for women’s rights with its own statute, and Government subsidies for women’s organizations had been increased. Concerning representation in public life, training programmes were in development to help women stand in elections and hold election campaigns, and to increase self confidence for women. These benefitted women who were taking part in the upcoming elections in October 2011. Areas of work in progress included the provision of paid maternity leave, study abroad programmes and a law that recognized obligatory and free education for all without discrimination.

Questions and issues raised by Experts during the discussion concerned Oman’s gender parity in the realm of participation in the political life of the country, equality in employment opportunities, and the availability of maternity leave. Experts asked the delegation about the existence and provisions for non-governmental organizations in Oman, as well as State institutions that dealt specifically with women’s issues. Committee members also asked for clarification on the availability of abortion, and the legality of female genital mutilation, as well as on the prevention of human trafficking especially for sexual and other labour purposes as well as the amount of care provided to victims of trafficking. The delegation was asked to explain the measures put in place to ensure equal division of property in the case of a divorce.

In concluding remarks, Sheikh Al Kalbani expressed his thanks to the Committee and said that his delegation had sought to respond to questions transparently. Oman, via the delegation, would seek to ensure that all points raised were followed-up and all recommendations were implemented.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Silvia Pimenta, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for providing a further insight into the situation of women’s rights in Oman. She commended the delegation for their efforts and encouraged the State party to take all necessary measures to address all of the recommendations of the Committee, to the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

The delegation of the Sultanate of Oman included representatives of the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth, the Committee for Women Associations / Muscat, the Minister’s Office, the Committee for Civil Society, the Ministry of Human Resources, the Women’s Health Division at the Department of Family and Community Health, the Director of Child and Women’s Rights Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senior Attorney General for Prosecution, the Ministry of Higher Education, the National Committee of Education, Culture and Sciences, the Department of Legal Affairs and International Cooperation and the Permanent Mission of the Sultanate of Oman to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday 5 October, to consider the sixth periodic report of the Republic of Paraguay (CEDAW/C/PAR/1).

Report

The initial report of Oman (CEDAW/C/OMN/1) notes that Oman ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in May 2005. Shortly after its accession Oman formed a committee to monitor implementation of the Convention. The Committee benefited from international expertise in that regard. The Committee has three goals: to monitor implementation and foster the provisions of CEDAW; to increase the public awareness of the Convention, through the appropriate media; and to prepare the first national report and subsequent periodic reports on measures taken to implement CEDAW.

Development efforts in Oman have sought to achieve gender equality and partnership, and removal of all forms of discrimination by empowering women and promoting their involvement in all fields in order to ensure their positive participation in sustainable development. Oman has adopted an approach whereby it seeks, on many occasions, to encourage and urge women to participate in public affairs of the country and affirms the importance of women having access to and exercising their full rights. Oman’s concern with issues of equality and gender is apparent in its legislation, which does not discriminate between men and women.

Other areas raised in the report include policies adopted in order to accelerate equality between men and women, issues including the well-being of rural women, equality in respect of marriage and family law, equality in health care and measures taken to combat trafficking, including the Law on Combating Human Trafficking, and the exploitation of women in all forms.

Presentation of Report

SHEIKH MOHAMMED SAID AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, first showed the Committee a short, ten-minute video on the lives of women in Oman. He said that the first national report of the Sultanate of Oman contained legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures taken by Oman to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified in May 2005, on a national level. The Constitution of the State granted priority to international conventions over national legislation. Oman was reviewing its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in order to withdraw what reservations could be withdrawn. Oman also intended to join other human rights instruments that they had not acceded to yet. A law had been enacted in addition to the basic constitution of the country to preserve the rights of women and to empower them fully. The development was based on the Beijing Platform.

Oman had always wished to further promote the status of women so they had full enjoyment of their rights, and therefore it looked forward to the technical assistance of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women so they could achieve the objectives of the Convention. Women of all nationalities received the same respect as Omani women, although non-Omani women were covered by a different legal framework.

Regarding recent developments, Mr. Al Kalbani said Oman had held a seminar on Omani women in 2009 under the direct auspices of the Sultan of Oman, who had asserted the importance and status of women. The seminar was widely covered by the media. The seminar adopted important resolutions. It was decided to have a Women’s Day in Oman annually on 17 October. The slogan for Women’s Day 2010 was ‘Women, partners in development’.

Oman had created a national institute for women’s rights with its own statute, which complied with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions. The membership included civil society and independent experts. It included a legal committee, a committee on information and awareness and a research committee. Government subsidies for women’s organizations were increased. A sector had been created to combat trafficking in women and domestic violence, and a hotline had been established to receive complaints. It had also been decided to collect statistics on sex in order to monitor the situation of women in Oman. A committee on women and children was created to mainstream their issues in all draft laws and policies.

Concerning legal amendments, Oman amended the law on passports to allow women to receive a passport without their guardians’ consent. Women were given access to a Sharia court in case they did not receive permission from their guardian to marry who they wanted. They also had a right of appeal to the Sultan of Oman.

Of those who received grants in the period 2010 to 2011, 43 per cent were women. Of those women who went to university, 70 per cent went to study science and healthcare. In engineering, women were only 19 per cent but that was due to the personal wishes of women. As for the share of women in civil service, up to 30 June 2011 it was around 43 per cent. The rate of women in the non-agriculture sector had increased to 20 per cent (in 2008).

Full educational grants were given to around 500 girls in higher education who could not pay for school. Girls were integrated in Government training centres to meet the needs of employment markets. Three specialized centres for women with disabilities, to help them work, had been opened. There had been special support for rural women’s projects, particularly honey production and animal care. Marketing centres were also created for women, particularly through local and national exhibitions, and especially to market the products of local women. A competitive environment was created for women to take up commercial work from home within a specific framework without need for prior authorization or registration.

Concerning representation in public life: training programmes were in development to help women stand in elections and hold election campaigns, and to increase self confidence for women. These benefitted women who were taking part in the upcoming elections in October 2011. Most of those programmes were initiated by civil society organizations, or implemented with their cooperation. There were currently four women ambassadors, which marked a 100 per cent increase, and in 2011 two Omani women were made representatives at the Permanent Missions in New York and two made representatives at the Omani Mission to the World Health Organization.

Areas of work in progress included the provision of paid maternity leave, study abroad programmes and a law that recognized obligatory and free education for all without discrimination. The census of the last year indicated the great progress that had been achieved. Illiteracy among women was reduced from the rate of 23.7 per cent in 2003 to 16.7 per cent in 2010. Women’s share of the economic market had risen from 11.2 per cent in 2003 to 16.4 per cent in 2010.

Oman made every effort to offer full support to women as a partner for development.

Questions from Experts

A Committee Expert said that in order to achieve the other pillars under the Committee, Oman needed to achieve equality for women not only in the public sphere but also in the private sphere. Despite the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Oman, which the Committee was pleased to see had become the law of the land, there was no definition of discrimination of women in the domestic sphere, and there was no explicit prohibition of discrimination of women. Equality was limited to public rights and obligations, as opposed to public and private. Was Oman considering an amendment of the law of Oman?

His Majesty the Sultan of Oman was well-known internationally as a formidable figure in terms of modernization and women’s rights; the strong leader was a blessing to be taken advantage of, and the Committee hoped that the action he had taken, by extending his new Royal decree that made him personally a ‘Wallih’ for women who ran into difficulties settling their marriage affairs in traditional courts, was a very positive development. Did it signal that equality in the private sphere would be the next agenda item for Oman?

Concerning the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the delegation had indicated that Oman was reconsidering that rejection – could the Committee give more information on this?

Regarding non-governmental organizations, the Committee noticed there was no shadow report from national women’s organizations in Oman. Did the State party cooperate with such organizations and did they consider the possibility to extend cooperation with national non-governmental organizations for their next report?

A member thanked the delegation for their report, and for the gender balance they had bought in their delegation. The role of parliament was very important and the State was encouraged to include parliament in their implementation of the Convention. What developments had they made in regard to the division of legislation?

Even if the Convention had become part of the domestic legislation it had not had a direct effect on domestic legislation and had not been invoked before the courts. A future effort on raising awareness was mentioned, which was very important, but it was also important to ensure training for law enforcement, for lawyers and police etcetera.

A Committee Expert asked about institutions in Oman that dealt specifically with women’s issues – did they exist, and if so could the delegation provide information about them? What were the functions of any such bodies, and what resources were available to them? What was their level of staffing? Also, was there a national programme of action?

Response by the Delegation

With respect to the definition of discrimination against women and the request for clarification, the delegation stated that the definition in the Convention was part and parcel of national legislation, but if there was a requirement for that definition to be expressed in other laws that would not be a problem.

As to the Optional Protocol of the Convention, Oman had delayed a decision. The Optional Protocol governed the rights of groups to submit complaints to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, that ensured the right of any individual to have recourse to a competent body to discuss problems relating to the implementation of the Convention. In Oman, specialized courts gave individuals that right. Ah hoc committees had been set up to consider those reservations. Oman was committed to review those reservations as quickly as possible. However, the reservations were based on the fundamental Sharia law of the State, and any withdrawal from that would be considered unconstitutional.

As regards the parallel report, there was nothing to stop civil society organizations contacting international organizations. The delegation said that in Oman they had had their version of the Arab Spring. There had been strikes and protest movements, which were the focus of civil society, and that meant their focus was diverted from the report. The delegation was optimistic that today the Government would be viewing civil society far more seriously. Women’s organizations played a great role in advancing awareness of women’s legislation, especially since 2008. They had been active in seeking greater rights for women, but the problem was the implementation of laws in courts. There was general guidance and training provided by the State. Also they had been trying to ensure that women were more aware of their rights in general.

Concerning domestic violence, the delegation said there was no specific mechanism whereby female victims of domestic violence could demand their rights. That was because it was not a widespread issue in Oman. However there were certain centres available for victims of violence, and every effort was being made to reintegrate those women into society. There was a system for receiving complaints, but it was for all family issues, not solely domestic violence. The penal system did not have any specific provisions for addressing domestic violence, but there were provisions for humiliation and undermining human dignity. Studies had been conducted regarding reviewing policies on women in society to take into account the developments that had occurred on Oman society. There were specific courts that dealt with women, family and marriage issues.

The delegation said that they had had a female Minister for Social Development, who had just been succeeded. Women held very high level posts in Oman and had done so for a long time. His Majesty the Sultan of Oman was the head of the Council of Ministers, and as head he was the leader who determined the overall policy of the country. He had fully taken on board the advancement of women, to enhance women’s political and economic participation, and saw women’s integration into society as essential. Elections to the Consultative Council would be taking place on October 15. Everyone had been working together to improve access of women to parliament. There were no political parties in Oman, but individuals, men and women, could stand in the elections as independents.

Concerning parliament, women accounted for 15 per cent of the higher house, and experience had shown that when women had not managed to succeed in the elections the Sultan had actually appointed women to the upper house of parliament to ensure that women were fully involved in the legislative process.

Regarding the national monitoring body, a study was conducted by an independent expert, at the request of UNICEF, to provide a basis for advising the Government of Oman. There was a two to three year work plan, which also determined their financial and staffing support.

In the Omani Government everyone worked for the empowerment of women. There was no specific number in mind about the support given in that field as it was a social partnership across all departments in Government. About 60 per cent of all new appointments to civil servant posts in 2011 were women – that was a qualitative leap. In Government jobs women made up over 50 per cent. In university there were some specializations, such as engineering and computer science, which had a smaller share of women, but that was because women were different. Also the weather was an issue - in summer temperatures went up to 50 degrees and women could not go to oil fields or construction sites then because it was too hot for them; there were health hazards that had to be taken into consideration.

Women were not employed in the civil service as drivers or couriers, they did not have lowly positions in civil society. Omani culture would slowly move on to more and more positions opening to women as greater awareness was created by making the Convention more well-known.

Returning to the issue of Oman’s reservations to the Convention, the delegation said that they would make every effort to withdraw the reservations as soon as possible, although they could not give a timeframe yet. They needed time and effort and work to convince the members of the two houses of parliament to approve the withdrawal of the two reservations. They also needed strong support from the people in the country, both men and women, to stand side by side to eliminate discrimination against Omani women.

The delegation said women had the right to go to a court and invoke the Convention, both legally and practically, although there was no legal precedent of the Convention being invoked in courts.

Questions by the Experts

Committee Experts said the delegation had stated that Oman was the first Gulf State to allow women to participate in political life. Among other statistics, it was said that in 1997 two women were elected to the Consultative Council, but that was just two women out of 80 members of the Council. The delegation was asked to please confirm whether any women were currently elected to the Consultative Council.

The numbers of women working in public life now were commendable, but more could still be done. In the judiciary, the delegation had stated there were no women judges, and that was an area where special measures could be extended.

With respect to protecting maternity, the delegation had said that there had been an adoption of special measures to protect that and in 2010 the Council of Ministers decided to grant women from the civil service maternity leave for a period of 60 days. The Expert asked if that had already become operational? Did Oman have any intention to amend the labour code accordingly to allow other women to have maternity leave, not just women working in the civil service?

The Convention required that there be an overall vision in the context of women, and there was need for a comprehensive approach to involving and assisting civil society groups and religious associations. One Expert asked whether there had been any gender-sensitive training of law enforcement officials on gender-based violence? On the question of dissemination of the Convention and reports, they were key issues and thinking of the level of illiteracy that still prevailed among women in Oman, perhaps it could be disseminated through other media, for example the radio.

The shift of relations between men and women was a struggle against prejudices, practices and stereotypes of the superiority of one gender over another. One needed to think about measures to change a situation, such as harmful practices like female genital mutilation. In a survey the delegation cited that 75 per cent of women said that they were in favour of female genital mutilation. That was a surprisingly and very high proportion entertaining a practise that was very harmful to women, and was something regarded by the Committee as one of the worst practices in the world today. The delegation was asked to elaborate on this issue. Also the issue of stereotypes needed to be addressed. It was important to think what initiatives could be done in that area, for example caring, of children, of the elderly, of the sick – that should not be the sole responsibility of women.

Response by the Delegation

In response to the comments and questions, the delegation of Oman said that Oman was a young country with three million people - two million Omanis and one million foreigners. In the Consultative Council there were 15 women members who were very active in introducing laws and implementation. The State had adopted special temporary measures to appoint these 15 women to the Council. Women had to have their voices heard in society and in the Government.

The Government would try to provide training for women, and make childcare centres available for them.

On domestic violence a study had been carried out but it had contained methodological errors and the results of the study were not accepted. A new study had been called for.

There were 182 women working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and there were 800 men, so that meant that females made up 26 per cent of the staff of the Ministry.

The idea of quotes had been put forward but was rejected by women – female candidates, women working in civil society - themselves, virtually unanimously. Women wanted the challenge of winning elections for themselves, not just being appointed. Among the reasons why no women had been elected in 2007, a primary one was that the women candidates did not have the chance to conduct an electoral campaign, which was particularly difficult in certain regions. In the cities efforts had been made to deal with this problem and support came in financial terms and from the media.

Regarding the statutes of maternity leave, the delegation hoped that it would soon be possible to provide paid maternity leave, once the current legal process was completed. The aim was to ensure women had maternity leave of one year to take care of their children.

With regard to giving women freedom of movement and residence, there was nothing preventing women from moving about as they saw fit, both nationally and internationally. Omani legislation did not prohibit travelling or require women to get travel permission to do so. Passport laws had also been amended; women could now get their passport without their guardian’s permission.

With respect to female genital mutilation, and in order to end that phenomenon, a medical agreement to prohibit such practices in medical institutions was passed. The general rule was not to carry out such practices in medical institutions. As for the circumcision of men, that was a practice that was carried out separately. UNICEF had carried out training classes to prevent female genital mutilation of young girls.

Concerning domestic violence against women, there were no sanctions against that sort of crime in Oman. All legislation applied to men and women on the same footing and that included not infringing on someone’s personal dignity, as well as not attacking them. Domestic violence in Oman was not widespread, it was limited in fact.

With respect to trafficking in persons there was a law against that, by Royal Decree. There were dissuasive sanctions in the country, with respect to transport, transit, and hosting for people involved in trafficking so there were applicable sanctions for that crime. There was an independent committee to monitor the crime of trafficking, which consisted of Ministers, and seminars and media coverage have been organized. There are strong sentences set out in the penal code, which considered trafficking to be a punishable crime in accordance with the law.

With respect to domestic workers in the home, their rights were protected by the Ministry of Labour, which developed new regulations in 2004. Oman had drafted model contracts to be used by the employers of domestic workers, which included the provision of food, accommodation, healthcare and an appropriate salary. The Labour Code was an important law that had been amended on several occasions, in order to optimize the work of foreign workers and protect them.

Follow-Up Questions from the Experts

Concerning trafficking interlinked with sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, an Expert noted that there had been cases where charges had been made. There was a case mentioned where one defendant was charged with prostitution, but it was found that she was a victim of threat and deception, and the defendant charged with prostitution turned out to be a victim. Women who engaged in prostitution should be considered victims if they had been trafficked.

With respect to temporary special measures, an Expert asked the delegation to please explain how Oman had recruited such a large amount of women (61 per cent) to the civil service in 2010? Had the Government used temporary special measures to achieve that?

In the judiciary system, there were women working in the prosecutor’s office; had they been mainstreamed into the judiciary system? Were there women judges working in Oman?

An Expert said that female genital mutilation was not carried out in hospitals but was freely being carried out elsewhere. What was being done to confront the scourge and harmful tradition that was an extreme violation of women’s rights?

Response by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments, the Committee said that there were 22 women prosecutors working in the prosecutor’s office, doing work at the same level as judges. There was no longer the criterion to be a man to be a judge. Some months ago there were advertisements for judges and assistant judges, and some women sat the entrance exam for that; they were still waiting for the results.

The penal code in Oman had sanctions for the practice of prostitution. If the person who was a prostitute was a victim of trafficking, in that case the victim who had exercised the profession of prostitution was considered a victim, and would be transferred to a care centre to receive the necessary protection and psychological care. She would be given information about all of the protection and guarantees provided her under Omani law, in her mother tongue.

Female genital mutilation was prohibited by the law and sanctions were imposed for that practice. If an authorized doctor conducted such mutilations his medical licence would be withdrawn.

Maternity leave of up to 50 days was provided for, in accordance with the Labour Code. Some professions provided paid maternity leave between 50 and 60 days. There would be a reform of the civil service law so as to unify the maternity leave so it would be a 60 day period across all sectors.

Questions by the Experts

Was it correct that Omani women could not transfer Omani nationality to their children if the child’s father was not Omani as well. Other Arab countries also prohibited women married to a non-national to pass their nationality onto their children.

Were Muslim Omani women allowed to marry non-Muslims without their husband converting to Islam. Did the same law apply to Omani men marrying non-Muslim women?

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these questions, the delegation said that in Oman the question of nationality was an objective and not a means. The objective was that children were not privy to statelessness. Oman was party to the Convention of the Right of the Child, which stated that a child should be given ‘a’ nationality, whether that of the mother or the father. There were no stateless children in Oman, because children born in Oman to an Omani woman, would by Royal Decree be granted Omani nationality. The children of Omani women married to non-Omani men were granted equal treatment to citizens, for example receiving health and educational services.

Duel nationality was not accepted in Oman, if the child had the nationality of the father, then that would be their nationality. If the child could not take the father’s nationality then that child would receive Omani nationality, as applied to children of unknown parents. Children born to unknown parents would be taken into custody in Oman. There was a centre in Oman to care for those children, who would be offered healthcare and supervision.

To get Omani nationality a person had to meet one condition, to have been a resident of Oman for no less than ten consecutive years, and then to also have an income and good morality.

The law on nationality in Oman regulated the acquisition of an Omani man marrying a non-Omani woman. The woman may have nationality after being a resident in Oman for five years. A non-Omani man marrying an Omani woman had to be resident for 10 years before acquiring the nationality. The reason for that was to protect women from men marrying her for Omani nationality, and then leaving her. The objective for marriage should be to set up a household and family, and not just to acquire nationality.

Questions by the Experts

Regarding divorce and custody, despite major reservations to article 16 (in particular clauses a, c and f), the Committee would like to hear specific reasons as to what part of Oman’s law enabled those reservations. In Oman, divorce could be initiated by a woman, if her husband gave her that right. There were eight grounds for divorce which could be initiated by the wife. Otherwise divorce was essentially exercised by the man, and many women suffered from a prolonged divorce process. There was the possibility of a ‘Telac’ divorce, when the husband merely said to his wife that he was divorcing her. Was there legal standing behind that?

Was the wife entitled to division of marital assents or any other forms of compensation upon the divorce? Also was custody always granted to the mother, were there laws that entitled the mother to request the separated spouse to pay child support? Under what circumstances could the mother lose the custody of the child? Was there an age limit at which custody stayed with the mother?

The report said that there was no division of property upon divorce, and that was the separate property regime. However the law did recognize contracts between spouses. Was there a possibility of assuming a contract, or an implied contract of the spouses, that would be acceptable under Sharia law?

Concerning inheritance, wives and daughters were provided with ‘their share’ of inheritance, but would there be a difference between that and the share that husbands and sons inherited upon the death of a parent?

Was there a consequence to a wife leaving home on the grounds of domestic violence? Did she stand to lose any of her rights because of that?

One Expert said that Sharia law made it difficult to implement the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and women could suffer from discriminatory laws because Sharia did not allow the Government to change anything. However, the Committee was seeing other countries make changes, including Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco, showing that Sharia Law was not unchangeable.

How did a judge make a decision in terms of whether or not a man in a polygamous relationship could ensure equality between his two wives?

Response from the Delegation

The delegation, responding to the questions and comments, said that under Sharia law marriage was a contract between two parties, a man and a woman, based on the consent of the parties. The State law drew on Sharia law and various Islamic opinions and jurisprudence, adapting them to current times. Regarding a ‘Telac’ divorce, that was a separation of the two parties and it was a right given to men. However it was possible under Sharia law for the woman to ask, when the marriage contract was drawn up, for divorce to be one of her prerogatives as well. Divorce cases were usually settled quickly, and there were no problems regarding access to courts and judges. The personal status law allowed for compensation for the woman at the end of her marriage.

The woman had custody of children aged 18 or younger. During that period the man was under an obligation to pay child support and to assist the wife in carrying out her custody of the children. The woman’s custody ended when the child was 18 and passed to the man. In instances when men were awarded custody of minors, such cases would be determined on the basis of the best interests of the child in keeping with international conventions. If the mother was not competent to carry out her tasks as a mother then custody would go to the man.

Just three per cent of marriages in Oman followed polygamy. It was uncommon and not really an issue. That institution was governed by the rules of consent as well.

There was no discrimination against women when it came to inheritance.

The marriageable age was 18 years. If a woman was below the legal age for marriage a judge must decide whether there was a good reason for such a marriage to take place.

Women held posts of responsibilities in many sectors and had widespread responsibilities in implementing projects that were important to them.

The impact of the media was important. Oman paved the way for media coverage of both men and women candidates. There would be promotional campaigns for candidates, and that depended of course on the financial circumstances of the individual candidate.

Questions from the Experts

Regarding education, an Expert said the Committee would like to know the enrollment rate for girl children, particularly at the primary level, and also more detailed statistics on the drop-out rate. What other factors for girls in particular, for example pregnancy, early marriage, affected girl children dropping out from school.

The Committee noted with concern the absence of sex-related statistics, and that Oman had a workshop on that issue. How successful was that workshop?

Response from the Delegation

In response, the delegation said that schooling rates had all increased: from grade one to six, to 98 per cent as opposed to 92 per cent in 2005. From grades seven to 10, 95 per cent of children attended. From grades 11 and 12 the rate of schooling was 94 per cent, as opposed to 72 per cent in 2005. In higher education there were more girls than boys. Education was free and considered a pillar of development. The Government made every effort in that field.

Other examples of gender equality in schools included the fact that picture books in schools showed boys and girls equally, materials were distributed to both genders, and sports days at schools were open to boys and girls as they wished. All children were entitled to take place in musical lessons and music competitions, even on a national level.

Girl students tended not to prefer engineering, for example petroleum studies were not favoured by girls. Girls were more likely to study medicine or health care, probably because they were fields more in women’s nature.

Questions from the Experts

Domestic workers were the most vulnerable category of workers and comprised women and girls. There were reports of those workers being the victims of multiple types of abuse. Those domestic workers often had to work long or excessive hours of work, had low wages and inadequate health insurance coverage. There were no legal norms for their treatment. They may have an employment contract, but reports said that the employers often did not respect those contracts and abuse went on behind closed doors. It was said that the Government preferred not to interfere, as they feared impinging on the family’s privacy.

On migrant workers, was Oman addressing the sponsorship system – Kafala - under which migrant workers were not allowed to change employers without the agreement of their sponsors?

Regarding paid maternity leave, what was the one-year period referred to when they discussed maternity leave earlier? The sixty-day period was currently only available to civil servants, was that correct?

A large pay gap between men and women still persisted. What was Oman doing to improve that?

Response from the Delegation

The Labour Code in Oman did not discriminate against migrant workers. There was respect for the rights of all migrant workers residing in Oman. There were also labour inspections to promote labour rights in Oman, and leaflets on the rights of migrants in Oman. There were deterrent sanctions in the Labour code for employers. The Government had pledged to find a substitute for the sponsorship or Kafala system, although it did not in any way limit the rights of workers.

Maternity leave was specified at 50 days in the civil service law. The mother then had an option to apply for an extra one year unpaid maternity leave, to follow on from the 50 days paid leave. The delegation specified that they had two types of leave: delivery leave and maternity leave, and that both should be paid.

Domestic workers could be subject to abuse, just as people in any field of work, but they did have access to legal support. There were contacts between civil society organizations and an international organization based in the Philippines for the rights of migrant workers. Later this year a multi-lateral conference would be held on the rights of those domestic workers.

Questions from the Experts

According to the report the second main cause of death (18 per cent of deaths among women) were from parasitic and infectious diseases. That was surprising in a country with high standards of healthcare. The third cause of death was tumours, which was quite common worldwide. However there was no breakdown of tumours specific to women – breast cancer, cervical cancer and uterine cancer. Were there early screening programmes for those cancers that logically only affected women?

Women did not need their husband’s permission to have surgery except for hysterectomy and tumours: those surgeries should be determined by a doctor, often in an emergency to save the life of a woman. There was concern that in such cases the woman would need her husband’s permission for a type of surgery despite the fact her life may be in danger.

There were concerns that women were not properly protected by sexually transmitted diseases. It would seem that the policy on using contraceptive was focused on reproductive issues and did not include sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. AIDS had been increasing year on year, although overall levels were relatively low.

An Expert noted that male and female sterilization were optional and available for whoever needed it. The delegation was asked to please elaborate on whether female sterilization was fully optional. For the next report the Committee requested statistics on that subject.

Abortion was legal only under very narrow limits and with the approval of a special medical committee, when the mother’s life was at risk or the foetus had a serious congenital abnormality. Was there a relationship between clandestine abortions and female mortality. Was there any intention of the part of the State to decriminalize abortion?

Female genital mutilation haunted women throughout their lives, leaving them vulnerable to many complicated health issues such as infertility and frequent infections. The cause of mortality from infection, mentioned above, could be connected to female genital mutilation. Oman’s report said that 53 per cent of females had undergone female genital mutilation. That sounded like an epidemic. Was Oman concerned about that? Apparently 80 per cent of school children and 85 per cent of women accepted the practice? That barbaric practice had no Islamic base and many Islamic countries banned it. Why was there no law to ban female genital mutilation in Oman? The hospitals may not practice it, but what about outside the hospitals, in the villages and the homes?

Finally there was little information on the mental health of women, or on women with disabilities, the Committee would like to know more about that.

Response from the Delegation

The delegation said that mental healthcare was equally provided to women as well as men. That aspect of health had been strengthened in primary healthcare. There had been over 3,800 new cases of women with mental health issues recorded, and 29 per cent of those cases accounted for women.

Women with disabilities benefitted from the same services and care on the same footing as all other citizens, and care was provided at a very early stage of the person’s disability.

Abortion was only authorized in certain cases. If the woman or the foetus were affected by the general health of the woman it was permitted up to 17 weeks into the pregnancy. That was done to benefit the health of the woman or the child in medical centres. If women used abortion services outside of those centres, follow-up and monitoring efforts were carried out to avoid any harm coming to the woman. There had been a significant drop in abortions, 16.9 per cent for every 1,000 women, decreasing from 20.9 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2009 (per thousand women). There were no statistics for cases of undeclared abortion, and it was not a major cause of maternal mortality.

Healthcare centres provided contraceptives free of charge to all Omani women in primary healthcare centres, and they were encouraged to use contraceptives. The contraceptives were not just provided to prevent pregnancy but also to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. In schools 60 per cent of girls were aware of HIV AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and awareness campaigns had been carried out to further educate young people.

Women did not require permission from their husband or guardian to access reproductive healthcare. When the woman needed help she got it. In both cases of sterilization, the consent of the partner was required.

There were healthcare programmes that targeted women who had had children, and awareness-raising services on breast cancer, osteoporosis and other diseases affecting that category of women. Those programmes had been implemented in all healthcare centres. There was a very low prevalence of cervical cancer in Oman.

A survey carried out in 2008 by the World Health Organization showed that the practice of female genital mutilation in many cases was clandestine, and so the authorities were unable to integrate that practice into the survey. The Government would do so in the future. There were no up-to-date statistics on this topic. There was a bill concerning ill practices affecting children, with a part devoted exclusively to female genital mutilation of young girls.

Questions from the Experts

In accordance with Sharia law, was the man still recognized as head of the household, and did a woman need permission to be the co-holder of a bank account? If a woman had a salary could she hold her own account separate to the one she shared with her husband? Did women have access to loans, mortgages and credits? Did a woman co-own goods bought within a marriage?

Did rural women have access to own land, which was important to their economic well-being? Were there any comprehensive strategies that addressed the needs of rural women?

Response from the Delegation

When women reached an adult age they could take out a bank loan or anything else, the consent of a husband was not required to open a bank account or take out a loan. Those rights were inherent and a woman’s financial status was totally separate from her husband’s. Her salary was her own. The goods and assets that a woman owned were not shared. In Oman there was no prohibition on women possessing goods.

There had been a study on women living in rural areas that had been translated into English and would be made available. Women were guaranteed the right of ownership of land. Women were fully entitled to own plots of land, based on a Royal Decree issued in 2008.

Concluding Remarks

SHEIKH MOHAMMED SAID AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development, said that they had sought to respond to questions transparently, and Oman, via the delegation, would seek to ensure that all points raised were follow-up and all recommendations were implemented.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided further insight into the situation of women in Oman. Ms. Pimentel commended the delegation for their efforts and encouraged the State party to take all necessary measures to address all of the recommendations of the Committee, to the benefit of all women and girls in the country.

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For use of information media; not an official record