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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers the report of Oman

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination 
against Women

3 November 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second and third periodic reports Oman on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Mohammad Ben Said Seif Al Kalbani, Minister of Social Development of Oman, outlined the measures taken by Oman in order to enforce the Convention at the national level, as well as the progress made in the areas related to women’s empowerment since the review of its initial report on 4 October 2011.  Omani women played constructive roles in various fields, in addition to their fundamental role in education and enhancing family unity and social structure.  Oman had achieved gender equality in primary and secondary education, and women accounted for 54 per cent of all admissions in higher education in 2016.  Advances had been made in the area of women’s health and reproductive health, with declining miscarriage and maternal mortality rates.  Efforts were under way to create new employment opportunities for women in the tourism and private education sectors.  The Ministry of Health was making efforts to raise awareness about harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation.  As for the children of Omani women married to foreign nationals, they were exempted from the requirement of obtaining Omani citizenship in order to enrol in higher education institutions.  

During the discussion, Committee Experts recognized the numerous advances made by Oman since 2012.  However, there were still discriminatory legal provisions including in matters of personal status and nationality.  Other outstanding issues included Oman’s reservations on articles of the Convention, representation of women in public and political life, negative stereotypes and harmful practices against women, violence against women, trafficking in women, nationality regulations, gender equality in education and school dropout, women in the labour market, domestic workers, the kafala system, sexual and reproductive health, abortion, social security coverage and retirement benefits for women, empowerment of rural women, the situation of women and girls with disabilities, the situation of female human rights defenders, equality before law in civil issues, early marriages, male guardianship, inheritance regulations, and equal value of testimony of women and men.     

In his remarks, Mr. Al Kalbani thanked Committee Experts for their questions and comments which would help Oman make great progress in the service of the Omani women. 

Abdullah Nasser Al Rahbi, Permanent Representative of Oman to the United Nations at Geneva, reiterated the commitment to upholding women’s rights in every regard and said that it was a demanding journey which required the participation of many partners, as well as a political will at the very highest level. 

Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended Oman for its efforts and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the Committee’s various questions and concerns. 

The delegation of Oman consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Oman to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 6 November, at 4 p.m. to hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions with respect to Norway, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Monaco and Guatemala, whose reports will be reviewed next week.

Report

The Committee has in front of it the combined second and third periodic reports of Oman: CEDAW/C/OMN/2-3.

Presentation of the Report

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID BEN SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, outlined the measures taken by Oman to enforce the Convention at the national level, and the progress made in the areas related to women’s empowerment since the review of its initial report on 4 October 2011.  One of the most important achievements in the area of women’s issues was the celebration of the Omani Women’s Day on 17 October which, since 2010, had been observed with many grand events related to women and the family, including a forum on women’s empowerment issues, and honouring leading women in special ceremonies.  The 2017 celebration had taken place under the slogan “Women and the family economy.”  The Omani women’s success in public and private life multiplied and they played constructive roles in literature and various economic, social, artistic and other fields, in addition to their fundamental role in education and enhancing family unity and social structure.  Oman had achieved gender equality in primary and secondary education, and women accounted for 54 per cent of all admissions in higher education in 2016.  Women accounted for 61 per cent of medical doctors in 2016.  During the 2012-2016 period, miscarriage rate had dropped from 10.8 to 9.7 per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 49; the number of women visiting prenatal care clinics had increased by 16.4 per cent; and maternal mortality rate had decreased from 17.8 to 13.4 per 100,000 live births.

Oman had granted women the right to vote and stand for election in 1994; in 2012, Omani women had competed in municipal council elections and four women had been elected.  The percentage of female voters in municipal elections had increased from 28.6 per cent in the first round to 46 per cent in the second round.  The Ministry of Social Development, in cooperation with civil society organizations, was making efforts to improve the awareness among women of their basic rights.  The Ministry had issued explanatory notes (Women in Omani Legislation) about the laws related to women for the period 2012-2014, including on the Reconciliation and Reunification Act, the Trafficking in Persons Law, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, the Civil Status Code, the Nationality Law, the Prisons Act, the Civil Transactions Act, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Oman recognized that the advancement of women’s rights began with their economic participation and it provided women with various forms of support and encouragement to take part in economic development process.  There were also many women who ran their business from home.  Efforts were under way to create new employment opportunities for women in the tourism and private education sectors. 

Omani women’s associations supported the women empowerment efforts and were spread throughout the country.  The Ministry of Social Development, in cooperation with partners and United Nations Children Fund, had worked on sectoral strategies related to women, children and persons with disabilities, taking into account gender mainstreaming.  Gender indicators and gender-responsive budgets were the basis for the operational plans of those strategies for the 2016-2025 period.  A special department for family protection was in place to deal with the development of family protection plans, and the Ministry of Health was making efforts to raise awareness about harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, through its health centres.  Children of Omani women married to foreign nationals were exempted from the obligation to acquire Omani citizenship in order to enrol in higher education institutions.  

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts recognized numerous advances made by Oman since 2012.  However, there were still discriminatory provisions in local laws with respect to personal status and nationality.   Was there a plan to adopt a general legislation to ensure equality of women and eliminate direct and indirect gender-based discrimination?  Were there court cases which made a reference to the Convention? 

Oman was a pioneering country in streamlining domestic laws with provisions of the Convention.  Would the State party consider lifting outstanding reservations on articles of the Convention, namely on those which were not in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Sharia?

What steps had been taken to upgrade the accreditation of the national human rights institution to category A status under the Paris Principles?

Gender-based data collection seemed not to have been carried out in a systematic fashion.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that Islamic law underpinned the Law on Personal Status.  The Government was working tirelessly to make improvements in that area and had no objections to the reconsideration of the discriminatory provisions of the said law in matters of marriage and nationality.  There were laws in place to prevent any scenarios leading to statelessness. 

All Government or private bodies that discriminated against women were clearly in breach of national laws.  The provisions of the Convention had been integrated through the Law on Children’s Rights, which stipulated teaching and education that rejected discrimination based on gender.

Oman had recently reviewed its reservations to the Convention on a case-by-case basis.  The delegation reaffirmed that general reservations to articles in breach of the Sharia law in no way undermined women’s rights. 

As for the national human rights institution, Oman had undertaken to ensure full compatibility with the Paris Principles.  Members of the national human rights institution had been designated and there was an attempt to involve as many women as possible. 

With respect to civil society, there was no restrictions in terms of presenting parallel reports on women’s rights.

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID BEN SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, explained that all laws were based on the principle of maintaining public order.  The family unit was a cornerstone of society and was used as a reference for social stability.  Women were equal in all regards, except in the concept of guardianship. 

The delegation clarified that around 69 local bodies represented women’s rights whenever they took cases to the capital to underpin the principle that women worked together with men. 

Turning to the data collection, the delegation explained that gender category was being taken into account. 

The reservations were a very important matter and the Government hoped that all court rulings would in the future refer to the Convention provisions.  The High Court could overturn any judgments that were not in line with the Convention provisions. 

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID BEN SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, said that the shadow report prepared by civil society was important for the Government. 

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts commended the State party for having revised the role of the Women’s Affairs Department and the Committee to Monitor the Implementation of the Convention.  Was there a comprehensive gender budgeting strategy and what was the scope of gender mainstreaming?  What was the concrete role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the implementation and promotion of women’s rights?

Turning to temporary special measures and representation of women in public life, Experts noted that women were not present in key positions.  Was there a reliable statistical tool to identify gaps in representation and means to ensure that women were involved in decision-making processes? 

Experts stressed that temporary special measures such as quotas for women were a way to speed up the “march of history” and urged Oman to consider ways to make women equal to men.

Why was there still hesitation to adopt the draft national draft strategy on enhancing the quality of life? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there might be a problem of women’s awareness about their rights when it came to their representation in public and political life.  Women had the right to hold office and there were women who held high-ranking positions. 

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID BEN SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, said that the Government was working to improve the statistics on women and children in cooperation with the World Bank.  Also, the Government was training new generations to have a sound sense of the importance of human rights, tolerance and openness, which was being achieved though the education system. 

Women’s economic empowerment was a key priority for the Government, said Mr. Al Kalbani and explained that the draft national draft strategy on enhancing the quality of life had been adopted and Oman would base all its efforts on it.  Oman was undertaking many measures, including temporary special measures, and had deployed efforts to promote women’s rights.  Perhaps the society itself was not sufficiently motivated, because more than half the electorate was comprised of women. 

Questions by Committee Experts

Regarding negative stereotypes and harmful practices against women, progress was gradual where rapid progress was needed.  Why had the Government not changed all programmes in all education cycles to modify stereotypes about women’s specific roles?  What was the role of civil society and religious leaders in changing those negative stereotypes? 

The Law on Children did not explicitly prohibit female genital mutilation and did not stipulate clear sentences. 

On domestic violence, who followed-up on complaints?  Was there a woman-friendly system in place?      

Turning to trafficking in women, Experts noted that Oman still did not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and asked about international cooperation and mutual assistance in that area.  As for the early identification of victims of trafficking, reliance seemed to be still placed on victims themselves to self-identify.  What did Oman plan to do in that regard?  How many cases of trafficking had been reported through the hotline in 2016 and 2017?  Were there shelters operated by civil society and did they receive financial support from the Government?

Did Oman plan to ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to those questions, the delegation explained that the Friday sermons were reviewed by the Government to ensure that they did not contain discriminatory or harmful statements to women.  The Penal Code of Oman prohibited the application of any and all harmful practices on children, while the Ministry of Health did not issue any licence to perform female genital mutilation.  The law stipulated prison sentences for such conduct. 

Turning to trafficking in persons, a delegate said that Oman was a party to the Riyadh Convention of 1999 which covered international cooperation and assistance to combat trafficking in persons.  A number of measures had been taken, such as the “Good Doing” campaign to raise the awareness about trafficking among victims and the general public.  There was also an effort to offer training to relevant judges, prosecution, police, and the Ministry of Social Affairs on identifying victims of trafficking.  Psychological and legal assistance was provided to victims, in cooperation with civil society. 

Oman was among the pioneers in the region in giving women a positive image.  For example, there were many anchor women in the media.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

Experts asked whether it would be possible to explicitly refer to female genital mutilation in the Penal Code, including a definition and sentences?  What was the status of the draft bill on domestic violence and which elements it contained? 

Article 38 of the Criminal Code allowed for punishing a spouse by the husband, Experts noted and stressed that more could be done to change the perception that violence against women was acceptable.

The delegation clarified that article 38 of the Criminal Code did not prescribe a punishment for a husband who disciplined his wife because it was socially accepted.  There were many court decisions where the wife asked for divorce because she had been battered by the husband, and courts had accepted the request because of the husband’s prejudicial action.  The new Criminal Code contained specific provisions on domestic violence. 

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions and comments, Committee Experts stressed that women should be made highly visible in the public life, and noted that women made up 27 per cent of the public administration in Oman.  Experts said that, to make any sort of impact, at least 30 per cent of members of the parliament must be women - what concrete actions would Oman undertake to make democracy truly inclusive?

As for nationality, Experts were concerned about discriminatory provisions of the Nationality Law of 2014 because it placed restrictions on Omani women to pass the nationality to their foreign spouses and their children on an equal basis with men.  Would the State party review that article of the law?  What guarantees were in place to discourage the creation of statelessness when Omani nationality was being denied? 

Experts asked why the Nationality Law requested foreign spouses of Omani women to reside in Oman for 15 years in order to receive nationality, whereas foreign spouses of Omani men had to prove only ten years of residence.   

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Government would adopt temporary special measures in order to increase the participation of women in public and political life and stressed that Oman was doing its best to have a better presentation of women in the Parliament.  Educated women were usually not able to be elected because opponents received more popular support. 

As for nationality, that was a politically sensitive issue, especially the phenomenon of double nationality, which was not recognized in Oman.  The restrictions placed on Omani women married to foreign nationals aimed to ensure that marriage was a legitimate one and not aimed solely at gaining Omani nationality.  Measures had been taken to ensure that children of Omani women married to foreign nationals were dealt with on an equal footing with other Omani citizens.  No one had had their citizenship revoked. 

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID BEN SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, explained that due to the presence of foreign nationals in Oman, the country needed to take steps to prevent fictional marriages.

The delegation shared concerns of the Committee regarding the residence requirement for Omani women married to foreign nationals under the Nationality Law, but the Government had to take into account social and economic facts in the country.               

Questions by Committee Experts

As for gender equality in education, Experts inquired about the causes and rates of girls’ school dropout.  What steps had been taken to ensure quality education for girls in rural areas, particularly girls from poor and nomadic families?  What was the educational path for girls who wished to pursue further studies?  Had the State party ever conducted a study on gender stereotypes in school curricula and textbooks?

Experts also inquired about the main areas of study for girls, and whether they studied areas that were traditionally dominated by men, such as science, engineering and mathematics.  Did the State party intend to do any research on that gender gap in study areas?

Turning to women in the labour market, Experts inquired about the possibility to extend paid maternity leave.   What was the timeframe for the adoption of the new draft Labour Law?  Would Oman take steps to ensure that job advertisements did not specify gender restrictions?  Why did the Labour Law contain a provision on time restrictions for women’s working hours, namely working at night? 

What changes had been envisaged to change the kafala system and so eliminate exploitative conditions for female workers?  Did Oman plan to expand the number of labour inspectors?  What effective measures could be adopted to end the practice of confiscation of passports of foreign domestic workers?  Were there any plans to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 189 on domestic workers?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the school dropout rate in 2016 did not exceed 1.3 per cent in primary and secondary schools, since education in Oman was compulsory and free of charge.   Once a school dropout was detected, an exchange between regional leaders and the parents was triggered, to ensure the child’s return to school.  Under law, school dropout was considered illegal.  Any field and specialization was open to girls, affirmed the delegation.

As for rural and nomadic areas, all populations benefited from the same rights.  Awareness raising campaigns were in place to ensure that educational process was ongoing and obstacle-free.  Young girls who wished to continue their studies had access to alternative, parallel curricula and programmes.  Boys and girls shared the same classrooms and desks, which eradicated gender barriers.

Oman had taken steps to counter the drop of the number of women in the labour market, including training and awareness raising campaigns.  As for the prohibition of labour by women before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m., that was a positive regulation because it allowed women to meet other obligations.  There could be exceptions, depending on professional activity.  Certain jobs required women to work very late and very early hours, such as medical doctors and nurses, police and military officers, and airport personnel.  There was no intention to discriminate against women.  On the contrary, the measure aimed to protect women from working unduly long hours. 

It was true that there was an element of discrimination in advertising job opportunities, but there were ways to remedy those.

Oman had implemented a ministerial decree on the employment of domestic workers, which was regulated through work contracts.  Paid leave of up to 30 days, sick leave, and annual return to home country were guaranteed. 

The kafala system did not exist as an official and legally recognized term. 

The Labour Code defined employment as a contractual relationship between two parties, with the minimum salary and work conditions set forth.  The rest depended upon an agreement with employers.  Labour disputes were resolved through relevant mechanisms.  Confiscation of passports was prohibited, and one could turn to courts if the confiscation did happen.  The new Labour Law was in the early stages of preparation.  The Ministry of Labour favoured the idea that it covered the area of domestic workers.        

Questions by Committee Experts

In their further comments and questions, Experts noted the improvement in health indicators for women in Oman, and remarked that abortion was illegal; the only exception was when the mother’s health was in danger.  Would the State party consider allowing abortion in case of incest, rape and serious foetal impairment? 

Female genital mutilation was similar to torture with long-term negative consequences for girls’ and women’s physical and psychological health.  The use of niqab (face veil) similarly caused psychological damage.  What was the access of women to information about sexual and reproductive health, and what was the availability of modern contraceptives?   

Experts commended the availability of social security coverage and retirement benefits for women and especially for various categories of vulnerable women.  What was the retirement age for women and men?  How many women had accessed loans and for what purpose?  Which sports activities were considered unsuitable for girls? 

How did the State party deal with the problem of gender digital divide? 

Was there a monitoring system in place for the special funds for the empowerment of rural women?  Rural and nomadic women had difficulties accessing education, healthcare and employment opportunities - what targeted policies were in place to help them to overcome those challenges? 

Women and girls with disabilities faced multiple forms of discrimination.  What measures were being taken to incorporate their rights in sectoral strategies and what special programmes were in place to facilitate their access to justice?

Women human rights defenders faced harassment, attacks, violence, and abuse in detention.  What measures had been taken to protect them from those occurrences?    

Were women actively involved in the strategy on climate change adaptation and mitigation?  Would Oman consider setting up an Ombudsman to monitor the conditions of women in detention?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation confirmed that abortion was prohibited unless the mother’s life was in danger.  The Government was looking into allowing abortion in case of serious foetal impairment.  

The Ministry of Health and bodies responsible for the protection of children were notified of cases of female genital mutilation. 

Information about sexual and reproductive health was available through the Facts of Life book to children of appropriate age.  There was also a toolkit for adolescent health, including family planning programmes.  Generally, a large number of female medical doctors provided emergency care to victims of rape and assault.  There were awareness raising campaigns on HIV/AIDS. 

On social benefit mechanisms, a large number of beneficiaries were women and they aimed at supporting family stability.  Oman had applied positive discrimination in the area of pension benefits for women, as they had to work only ten years in order to gain the right to obtain pension.  The retirement regulations were beneficial for women because they could decide to retire earlier.  Pensions for widows were guaranteed, and each case had its specific circumstances.    

Women could dispose of their commercial property, hold property entitlements from their husbands, and obtain bank loans without interest.  A specialized fund for the empowerment of rural women was in place since 2014, as well as the Rural Development Bank.  Since 2015, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals in all its strategies, including the right of women to own land. 

Rural women significantly contributed to the gross domestic product, and they benefited from dozens of trainings on new technologies.   

As for climate change, women were involved in the drafting of the strategy.  Since the storm in 2007 the country had experienced great loss due to climate change.  Women were given the choice of having a new agricultural project or to receive financial support from the Government in case of climate-related damages.

On female human rights activists, the law guaranteed freedom of expression, except when there was an attack on laws.  There were no cases of enforced disappearances in Oman.  The refusal to set up a non-governmental organization could be appealed. 

As for Ombudsman monitoring the conditions in detention, inmates could lodge their complaints to alternative authorities and judges could themselves visit places of detention.

Women and girls in disabilities did not have to pay fees to access justice and could address themselves freely to the justice system.  The Labour Law had set out an employment quota for persons with disabilities.      

Wearing of niqab (face veil) by women was not permitted in Oman. 

Sport activities were available in the countryside to the same extent as in cities, and girls received physical education from an early age.  Oman did not consider any sport activity inappropriate for girls.

Questions by Committee Experts

Turning to equality before law in civil issues, Experts inquired whether the equal value of testimony of women and men also applied in the Sharia law, and whether women still had to have an approval from the guardian to obtain a passport? 

Could the delegation explain the concept of “blood money” and why the term “civil compensation” was not being used instead?

The Personal Status Law was consistent with the Sharia law but not with the Convention, and Oman continued to maintain a reservation on article 16.  The male guardianship over women played a central role in exercising a patriarchal model of family relations which negated women’s rights.  Which steps could be undertaken to change the model of male dominance and patronage?

What practical steps were envisaged to prevent marriage below the age of 18, including the legal steps to protect the right of the girl to enjoy her childhood and the right to education?  Repudiation divorce was absolutely unacceptable.  Why were women were not treated equally with respect to inheritance?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there was no difference between the testimony of a woman and that of a man.  The law was the same in that respect; Oman applied generic Islamic jurisprudence.  As for “blood money,” the judicial system followed the compensation principles according to the Sharia law.  Insurance companies stepped in and shouldered the responsibility for the payment of money.  Women had to pay half of the “blood money” amount paid by men.   

The Personal Status Law in no way jeopardized the rights of women.  In terms of divorce, women could address the case to courts.  Every couple had to register their marriage in civil courts.  

As for inheritance, it would be very delicate to amend the current laws. 

The Government would probably soon remove its reservation on the right of women to travel and move freely. 

Concluding remarks

MOHAMMAD BEN SAID SEIF AL KALBANI, Minister of Social Development of Oman, thanked the Committee Experts for their questions and comments which would help Oman make great progress in the service of the Omani women.  The Committee had fully supported Oman in its endeavours, and the Government was profoundly concerned about ways to provide Omani women with full enjoyment of their rights. 

ABDULLAH NASSER AL RAHBI, Permanent Representative of Oman to the United Nations at Geneva, reiterated the commitment to uphold women’s rights in every regard and said that it was a demanding journey which required the participation of many partners, as well as the political will at the very highest level.  He was pleased to see the Omani women, and women in general, taking their rightful leadership roles. 

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Oman for its efforts and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the Committee’s various questions and concerns.

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