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Public Policy Paper: Increasing Women's Political Representation in Oman
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Abstract:
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. This paper presents several alternatives to confront this problem: allowing the formation of political parties and civil society organizations, changing the electoral system, setting a quota for political representation of women, and maintaining the electronic system in the election and representation of women in the political arena.

Key Words:

Oman - Women - Gender - Political representation- Elections - Power.

Introduction:

The United Nations has adopted the right to gender equality since its inception. It is included in the first article of the Charter of the United Nations which serves several purposes, including the achievement of international economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation, the promotion of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms without discrimination on gender, language or religion, and no distinction between men and women.[1]            

The gender gap index shows the widening gap in political and economic representation and even in receiving education between men and women in the Sultanate of Oman.[2]

Problem description:

Omani women gained the right to vote and to run for political office in 1994 but this legislation was nothing more than a sham, as it served only a small number of selected people approved in advance by the government.

Considering the legal and constitutional aspects, each of the basic laws in the "constitution" that were 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 based on "sex and origin" language, religion, sect, homeland or social status" is the constitutional engine to guarantee women's political equality.[3]

Women's political representation began to take a new turn in 2003 when all women were 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, 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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. Often, each tribe nominates candidates informally, forming pacts and mobilizing 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 centralized within the family, and this makes women’s access to tribal channels and their nomination by their tribe a difficult task.[12]

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, and although some women's organizations are formed in Oman, they are often Focuses 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. The greatest opportunity for women to run and be elected.[13]

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.[14]

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, 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 neighboring countries such as the United Arab Emirates, the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that 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 organize 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 the opportunity to cast their votes without obstacles that may prevent them from going to the polls.[15]

Parties involved in the problem:

  • Government: represented by the Elections Commission, Parliament (Shura Council-Majlis al-Dawla), the judiciary, and the prime minister.
  • Citizens in general and women in particular.
  • Tribal elders / Leaders.

Setting and evaluating alternatives:

Many alternatives 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 organizations:

This alternative is based on changing the laws that prevent the formation of political parties and civil society organizations 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 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.

Advantages:

  • The responsibility for supporting women's political participation becomes divided between formal and informal actors.
  • Political participation becomes a more transparent process.
  • Helps in changing social habits and customs by reaching the tribes in places that the government cannot reach.
  • Helps in providing jobs.

Disadvantages:

  • This alternative requires amending the political system in the Sultanate of Oman allowing the formation of political parties and civil society organizations.

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 family, 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 depends on the majority system.

Advantages:

  • Changing the electoral system to a mixed or proportional system can lead to fair representation for women and minorities.

Disadvantages:

  • Changing the electoral system requires changing some provisions of the constitution.
  • Changing the constitution requires a popular referendum and a majority vote.
  • Financially expensive alternative.

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 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 neighboring 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.

Advantages:

  • Gender quota is the most effective mechanism that guarantees an increase in the percentage of women's representation in the political arena.

Disadvantages:

  • Changing the electoral system requires changing some provisions of the constitution.
  • Changing the constitution requires a popular referendum and a majority vote.
  • Financially expensive alternative.

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.

Advantages:

  • More transparency in the electoral process.
  • Provide more information to the candidates.
  • Provide a better oversight mechanism for the voting process.
  • Prevent fraud and repeat voting by some voters.
  • Women are given the opportunity to vote without obstacles that may prevent them from going to the polls

Disadvantages:

  • The use of the electronic system for voting is difficult for some elderly people who are unable to use modern technology.

Recommendations:

This public policy paper recommends that all three alternatives be implemented urgently, to ensure a real change in the political system to ensure that women have the opportunity to run in elections, secure a seat in decision-making positions, and have access to equal political representation.

 

Reference:

English Reference:

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<=en 

9- World Bank, “Report: Gender Equality Index 2021”,2021, Available at:https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf

Arabic References:

 1- ??????? ??????????? ?????? ????? ????? “?? ??????? ??????? ???????"? ???? ???: https://omanportal.gov.om/wps/wcm/connect/AR/site/home/cr/cr7is/cr75/

 2- ???? ????? "????? ??? ????? ?? ????? ????? ???? ??????? ??????"? ????? ??????? ???? 2003? ???? ???: https://archive.aawsat.com/details.asp?article=155953&issueno=8862#.Y5NOruxByrc

 3- ????? ???????? "???????? “????” ?????: ?????? ????????? ?? ??? ?? ????"? ????? ??????? ???????? ??????? 25 ?????? 2019? ???? ???: https://gulfhouse.org/posts/3832/

 4- ????? ???????? ????????? "???? ???????: ??????? ?? ???????"? ????? ??????: 9 ?????? 2022? ???? ???: https://fm.gov.om/about-oman-ar/government-ar/ministers-profiles-ar/?lang=ar


[1] UN Women, “Concepts and definitions: Gender equality”, available at: https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm

[2] World Bank, “Report: Gender Equality Index 2021”,2021, Available at:https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf

[3]  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

[4]  ???? ????? "????? ??? ????? ?? ????? ????? ???? ??????? ??????"? ????? ??????? ???? 2003? ???? ???: https://archive.aawsat.com/details.asp?article=155953&issueno=8862#.Y5NOruxByrc

[5]  OCHR-Oman, “Women In The Judiciary: Oman”, the Omani Center for Human Rights, August 2020, Available at: https://ochroman.org/eng/2020/08/womenjudiciary/

[6]  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 

[7]  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<=en  

[8] Ibid.

[9]  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  

[10]  ????? ???????? ????????? "???? ???????: ??????? ?? ???????"? ????? ??????: 9 ?????? 2022? ???? ???: https://fm.gov.om/about-oman-ar/government-ar/ministers-profiles-ar/?lang=ar

[11]  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

[12] Ibid

[13]  ????? ???????? "???????? ????" ?????: ?????? ????????? ?? ??? ?? ????"? ????? ??????? ???????? ??????? 25 ?????? 2019? ???? ???: https://gulfhouse.org/posts/3832/

[14]  Fair Vote, “Winner-Takes-All Problems”, Accessed in: 14 December 2022, Available at: http://archive.fairvote.org/index.php?page=2100

[15] ??????? ??????????? ?????? ????? ????? “?? ??????? ??????? ???????"? ???? ???: https://omanportal.gov.om/wps/wcm/connect/AR/site/home/cr/cr7is/cr75/

 

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