Women's Leadership in Oman: Opportunities and Challenges

By Maia Carter Hallward
Submitted to Session P4690 (Women, Work, and Leadership, 2016 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Drawing on interviews conducted with women leaders in Oman in February 2016, this paper will investigate the political, social, and economic conditions that allow women in Oman to attain positions of leadership. It will explore the role of internal domestic factors, such as the leadership style of Sultan Qaboos, and external factors, such as the so-called Arab Spring, in shaping opportunities available to Omani women. Oman is an understudied country, and provides a unique and interesting case since the country’s geography differentiates it from other Gulf states and it practices the lesser known Ibadi form of Islam. It does not have the same degree of wealth at $19,000 per capita in 2014 as either the United Arab Emirates ($44,000 per capita in 2014), or Qatar ($96,000 per capita in 2014) (World Bank, 2015) . Women hold a number of leadership positions, including the Minister of Higher Education and the Ambassador to the United States. However, the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report ranked Oman 96 out of 142 for educational attainment, and 128 out of 142 in terms of economic participation and opportunity. The data indicates a disconnect between educational and economic achievement, and suggest that, at least, in economic terms, the gap between women and men remains sizeable.
Despite this gap, the presenters at the 2014 conference on women’s leadership in Oman demonstrated that there are women in significant leadership positions in Oman, even as some challenges persist. Recent studies highlight the “agency and determination” of Omani women even in “socially conservative” areas of the country. This paper draws on the stories of women leaders in Oman to document the social, political, and economic factors that enhance women’s capacity to obtain leadership roles in Arab societies. Using interviews conducted by the author situated in an analysis of Oman’s gender-related policies and socio-political and economic indicators, the authors make recommendations regarding the factors that seem most conductive to women’s success in the public sphere.