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Promoting Women’s Rights from the Back Seat

10 May 2009 No Comment

Vera Avalon

Vera Avalon


We all know that when women bond together with purpose, the consequences can cause drastic changes in societies. In places where women are afforded very little authority and control, such as where I live and work in rural Oman, no one likes to talk about how strong women really are. They are an inherent threat to patriarchal societies.

But what happens when there just aren’t women who want to make the change?

Battling local social frameworks and long-entrenched regulations on behalf of the local women is not only mind-bogglingly difficult, but it also falls short in the long run. The trick to promoting social change as a foreign woman is guiding the local women to take the initiative. Give a woman a fish; she eats for a day. Teach her to fish; she eats for a lifetime. Ultimately, they need to push.

A lot of these women aren’t willing, or just aren’t ready, to stick their necks out for much needed change. They can change, but surprisingly often (to me), the desire isn’t there.  So many of the young women here have been taught not to challenge, but rather to be complacent, and to love their submissive position in society. The lessons have stuck, and many of the women, as well as the leaders and organizers, don’t want me shaking up the status quo. They are often more content living in what they know, than jumping ship into uncertain independence and self-sufficiency.

Perhaps here in rural Oman where I am trying to bring women together to find strength and commonality in each other, I need to get in the passenger seat.  The process is a long one, and sometimes the women first need to recognize that there actually is a problem. It’s hard for me to grasp that gathering as women could be so revolutionary, so threatening, and so unforgivable. Yet, here, it can be.

The process is a long one. My one-on-one (often secret) conversations with the young women here might not be as powerful as a determined group of women fighting for change, but it is nevertheless something new and necessary. It is the first step.

Many of these girls have never even been able to talk about sensitive issues such as marriage, sex, clothing, independence, and family tensions without judgment and without the danger of being ostracized for their opinions, or even for their situation.

As an external force here on the social and cultural framework in Oman, it might be best for me to take a step back and let the little accomplishments pile up. Maybe it won’t happen now, and maybe it won’t happen next year, but step by step the little changes are going to build enough confidence and strength for the women here to take on the ultimate challenge for them themselves:  achieving justice, independence, freedom, and respect.

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