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Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Many of you have seen women walking around in some inner parts of Oman wearing these very colorful dresses. From the picture below, the three women there are wearing what we call “wael, sweesri, or landani” I have no idea why they got these names, but that’s how we identify them.

Copyright© 2009 Travel with a Challenge

These are mostly worn in the inner parts of Oman and some “lower-to-middle class” areas in Muscat. Well, one thing about these dresses is that they are very popular with female teachers. Almost all teachers in the inner parts of Oman (some in Muscat too) wear them. If you go to the fabric store, you would find some.. just ask for a “wael” or “wayel”..

There are usually many designs, sometimes of different colors. The fabric is very light and sometimes transparent. So you can imagine the kind of torture a woman goes through to make it less see through. Once you get the fabric (5m I think), you chose the kind of lining you want. Some women use regular cotton while others prefer silk.

You take the fabric to your regular tailor and he does the needful, which is making the dress and the long scarf. Some women like to add their own touch, so they take it to local girls that do some bead work for about R.O. 8. Not bad if you wanna look hip at school!

Also, the thing with this fabric is that new designs come in every week. However, this does not mean they become out of style that fast! maybe after a year or two.

Anyway, I love this kind.. I even used to make some and take them to the US with me (only wore them at home though). I know some girls (many) that think this is “un-hip” and “backwards”, but I think they are the coolest thing ever. Wearing a traditional Omani dress is another option (I need to explore that more often), but this is great for wearing something nice and looking modest at my grandparents house with minimum effort.  I hate the other kind of dresses that are full of bead work where you can ONLY have them dry cleaned!

I prefer these… wash, dry, wear! that simple! and the patterns are just cute! I also refuse to wear an abaya at my village when I put them on! another bliss!

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Female Circumcision in Oman

Female circumcision in the Gulf area is widely practiced, maybe not as popular anymore, but it has been practiced for centuries. Now, talking about this subject freely might have some stigma to it, and many expats wonder about it but are too polite to ask.

To make it clear, female circumcision in the Gulf is not the same as that practiced in some African regions where women’s external parts are all cut off leaving small openings. Also, it is neither required nor sought after in Islamic teachings. Female circumcision is a cultural aspect of the Middle East. When I asked some relatives about circumcision a few years ago, the explanation was that we live in a very hot weather climate, and the Arabic women usually have external vaginal parts that are larger than the normal size. The combination of hot weather, no underwear, and the large sizes made women uncomfortable or rather (frankly) aroused.

This explanation may sound naïve and unrealistic to many of you, but it is a valid reason to many here. Now, what is female circumcision in Oman and the Gulf region? As far as I know, circumcision varies from cutting parts of the clitoris to making a small cut that makes no impact (I guess the sight of bleeding = purification). I do not believe that there is a certain cultural event or a ritual that happens during the circumcision. Women just call a known lady to their houses when men are absent. She makes the cut, gets paid, and leaves.

Now, is female circumcision wrong? Yes, and the younger the generation gets, the more they are aware of the repercussions. The idea that circulates now-a-days is that female circumcision is the result of females’ inability to enjoy sexual activities with partners. Many mothers these days refuse to circumcise their daughters.

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Since I held my job in Oman I have been having a hard time adjusting to the male-female boundaries and relationship at work. Yesterday, I complained to one of my male relatives (who is more open than others) about a male co-worker who always finds a way to be inappropriate.

After listening to my complaint, my relative concluded that it was my fault. I am not strict enough with my co-worker. Though I view my relationship with him as formal and sometimes casual, apparently I must never assume that he should always respect me. Here, women have to constantly demand respect and never be lenient. Not once because that one time would be the key to inappropriate conversations.

I told my relative: “Why do women always have to protect themselves from inappropriate male behavior? Why can’t men assume that they have to respect women up front, instead of women constantly having to prove themselves worthy of respect?!” Then, I told him that this was not the experience I had in the US, well, the reply I got was harsh: “This is the culture you live in and you have to adopt a new attitude if you want to live in it. If you don’t like it then move to another country that fits your culture!”… ouch!

The problem I am facing is that I do not want to be that girl that is constantly thinking about what precautions I have to take to not cause the opposite sex to disrespect me. I want to be respected. Period. This culture surrounds the male’s animal instinct. Women have to build walls and walls just to gain respect. Those walls have to always be maintained because a woman can never fully earn respect. It is an ongoing process that never ends.

Tired!

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When Culture and Law Do Not Meet

Today I dedicate my post to the death of a dear person that society and law failed her deeply. This is a story of a woman, who was born with a simple disability that should have not prevented her from living her life fully and with no drawbacks. Her story -my friends- marks her family, her society, and the law with shame.

She was young when her parents divorced and her father married another woman. That mother in law punished this young girl for her disability. Using the word “punishing” does not justify what happened. Tortured and abused for almost 40 years is more descriptive and close to reality. The abuse began when her mother in law had children and could not handle them. This girl became the enslaved servant of the house. She cleaned the house all day and was whipped at night. She ate leftover and slept under the stair case.

After her half brothers and sisters started growing, her abuse increased. They took turns, and learned the all sorts of torture techniques on her. She was theirs to insult, to beat, to enslave. She started to develop a mental illness. How would you not if you sleep in your own shit every single day?! She was forbidden from even going to the bathroom, taking showers, and having clean clothes! She was a walking trash bag and was definitely treated like one.

You might wonder, where were her extended family? Where was the law?

One of her cousins tried to take her away from that house. He managed for a small while, but he was faced with cultural pressure. “How can he take her while she has a living father and brothers?”. In Islam, a woman’s guardian is her father followed by brothers and uncles. Her cousin (married with kids) was causing a lot of gossip. He was making his uncle look weak in front of people. So, they fought to have her back under their roof.

Basically, abusing a girl looked so much better than questioning her abusive father’s ability to support her. Culture, in this instance, sheltered the abuse to maintain the father’s honor. However, the abuse was not sheltered from society. Every one in that neighborhood new about it, but what can they say or do. She lived under her guardian’s roof. The police turned a blind eye to the abuse. To them, it did not lead to major bodily injuries. She still walks (though hunched), and don’t forget, she had a disability. Also, he was a man of wealth and influence.

At the end, this is an instance where culture and law do not meet. She is dead, may God rest her soul in peace. To those who think our culture is perfect, then I would like to say that that same culture has given so many excuses to the father and brothers of this woman. That same culture was “okay” with her abuse. A culture that had nothing to do with the teachings of Islam. That same culture that killed her 40 years before she had died.

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Men Behind Walls

Today I would like to talk about the roles of men in our society. Please note that this is not meant to generalize, though I think it is true for the majority of people here.

I had a conversation with a co-worker a few days ago about his daily life. He works in Muscat but lives in the inner parts of Oman. The conversation went as follows:

“Do you cook?” he asked, “Yes, sometimes” I replied, and in an attempt to bring up a discussion I asked, “Why? Do you?”.

“Nooo!” he replied with a tone of disbelief as if I have hurt his honor. Knowing him, I kind of expected it and I continued, “Why not? There is nothing shameful in cooking”. “But I am a MAN!, I should never touch a pan!”… huh, If cooking is shameful, then is starving honorable?.. just wondering

Then, he went on to describe how things go with him once he arrives his village, “Once I enter my house, I put my bag of dirty clothes on the side and sit in the living room. A few minutes later, my lunch arrives. Of course my mom or my sister brings it to me. Then, I sleep. I barely enter our kitchen, and even if I needed to drink, they would bring it to me. At the end of the weekend, I find my clothes cleaned and ironed, ready for me to take back to Muscat”…. Thinking while not being shocked, that hardly makes you a man!

“Now what you are saying is that you are a man because you do nothing and let the women in your house serve you?” I replied.

“No, its not because I do nothing, but women are supposed to serve men. That is their duty. The Quran says ‘Men are in charge of women’ (Surat al-Nisa, 34).” He continued.

“That does not mean men are above women!, and it certainly doesn’t mean that women are servants to men!”

Here, the phrase ‘Men are in charge of women’, is widely used in the Gulf area. In our local Arabic, the term “in charge” has changed to mean that men are above women. Now, if we look at the whole verse concerning the “in charge” part, the Quran says: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.”

Now this makes me wonder. Women, in many times, work and too spend part of their salary (sometimes all of it) on their household needs. So, in another light, and may I dare to say this: men being in charge of women is somewhat not needed as much with those that work and are independent.

There are many men that would not marry a non-working female because their income alone is not enough. Then, they expect their wives to work (same hours as they do) and run back home to cook, clean, and look after the kids. On top of that, if the wife is not looking after herself – as in being attractive– then she is not a good wife!

So, my question is… in this society, where does the men’s role fall behind the walls of houses?

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After posting an article on dating in Oman, and after reading Dhofari Gucci post on “Internet Dating“, I wanted to write a more comprehensive review over the situation.

What I will try to do here is not to state whether dating is good or bad, but to tackle the issue from a more objective point of view rather than a judgmental one.

There are a couple of points to consider here:

First: Past vs. Present
The difference between the past and the present is that in the past, women would get married at the age of 14 (and above) and men would get married at 17 (and above). The act of marrying your children off was such a sacred act that very few girls would reach the age of 16 without having a fiancee.
Today, you have kids from both sexes that are between the ages of 15 to 25 (and above) that are unmarried for family, educational, and financial reasons. So, the issue is.. if people reach their prime in sexual needs at the age of 18, where would you put all their sexual frustrations? If talking to a guy, dating, and even masturbation is a taboo… where does all their sexual needs (which are normal human needs) go?

I don’t blame girls that believe guys who tell them over the chat room or the phone that they are in love. These girls are in desperate need to fulfill their emotional desires, and the guys are in desperate need to fulfill their sexual desires (or vice versa).

Also, the big difference between the past and the present is the sensitive situation women are put in. In the past, if a woman gets married and it doesn’t work out, then its okay. She gets divorced and after a few months, she is married again. Now, women are in a difficult situation. She is labeled a “divorcee”, secluded from society, and people looked down on her. A woman tries her best to chose that one person who will be good to her for the rest of her life. Therefore, looking for a suitable partner becomes her responsibility too. Women prefer to know their partners at some extent before marrying them.

Second: Marriage Obstacles
There are many women and men that desire to get married, but they are faced with obstacles that premarital sex is soo much easier to do than get married. This is one of those serious situations we are facing here in Oman. Marriage sometimes is not delayed for financial reasons. Sometimes the guy “is not good enough” for the family. His heritage, his lineage, or his level of education does not meet the parent’s requirements no matter how much the girl feels about the guy.

We don’t live in a culture where someone is only valued based upon their morals and good intentions. No. Some people would say, “you can’t blame the parents for wanting the best for their kids”, well.. my response is “Can you blame the kids for wanting to fulfill their needs?”.  How many guys and girls have fought to be together but all tries were in vain? Who are we to judge them later on for ending up dating and having premarital sex?

Third: media
Dhofari Gucci mentioned the media’s influence over dating in Oman. It is very true that it feeds young adults with sexual imagery. However, does the problem lie on the media only?
If you look around Oman, and the Gulf for that matter then tell me.. what do young adults do? What other options do they have? Where can they direct their energy other than it being suppressed into massive sexual desires?

The activities that happen in Muscat are what? Girls walking around the Shatii or driving their cars over and over again at the Qurum area along with the guys. (if you can see the headlights flashing and hear the honks from time to time, it means.. helooo there! or check me out!). If playing sports is somewhat seen as a waste of time for girls and sometimes as a taboo so that they do not injure their hymens. I mean, not all young people are interested in going to Quran lessons (with all respect), or participating in poetry events.

My final conclusion:

When I was in college in the US, I used to have friends that were conservative protestants. They also believed that premarital sex  and inappropriate male to female behavior was unacceptable. However, you might wonder, how were these young adults able to avoid acting upon their desires in a society that not only it does not condemn it, but encourages it in many instances. Well, these kids did a hell lot of community work. Volunteering and participating in group activities as much as they can. They also married young: around the age of 22.

However, they also don’t ban girls and guys from having friends of the opposite sex. I think this teaches a very valuable lesson, that you can look at the opposite sex as just a friend with no sexual connotations.

To be honest, here.. many of the men and women that are unmarried (even married in some instances) are seen as potential sexual partners.

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Omani Women in 1977

Here is a picture that I have received that I wanted to share with everyone. It is “astonishing” to see fully grown high school girls in those days (Some might already be married). I wonder how no one labeled them as “sluts” !? hmmm

I mean look! they are not wearing SCARFS!!! OMG!! Only “bad” girls do that these days!
and look! they are wearing BELTS!! Defining their waists..!!! HOW DARE THEY!!!!? bad bad bad girls!

Oman National Day in Buraimi 1977: "Jameela Bu Huraid High School Congratulates His Majisty Sultan Qaboos for the Seventh National Celebration"

Oman National Day in Buraimi 1977: "Jameela Bu Huraid High School Congratulates His Majesty Sultan Qaboos for the Seventh National Day Celebration"

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