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Oman, where women now have a say...

Only recently Oman, the geographically forbidding sultanate at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was living an the Dark Ages. Even by the most backward Arabian standards Omani women and girls were given very short shrift indeed. There were only three schools catering for a population of over one million, and these were strictly reserved for boys.

Well-to-do Omanis found it almost impossible to send their daughters abroad for education.

Then, on July 23, 1970, there was a dramatic change, with the overthrow of the despotic old king, Sultan Said bin Taimur, and his replacement by his son, Sultan Qaboos bin Said then 29.

The new young king was determined to modernise the kingdom. He could not have achieved such dramatic social progress without the revenues from newfound oil deposits: even so, Oman’s budget often has, been strained in the cause of advancement.

Today there are about 240 schools with 65,000 students, at least one-third of whom are girls. Some 380 young Omani men and women are abroad studying.

At the recent National Day celebrations, which coincided with the popular young king’s birthday, Sultan Qaboos announced an annual award, to be known as the Sultan’s. award for merit, which we shall personally present on each future national day to the boy or girl who performs the most worthy act of service to our country and people during the year."

"Women’s emancipation. has. come a long way in a very short time, but old traditions linger, and many husbands insist that their women still wear the veil in public," the wife of a Cabinet minister told me.

This male conservatism was strikingly illustrated by the case of a beautiful young lady who became the star attraction on Salalah’s television station.

When she took the TV job the young lady was betrothed, and had accepted a token dowry from the groom-to-be’s family — an Omani custom. When the family insisted that she give up her TV job, she refused, and when the marriage contract was annulled, she further refused, in the interests of women’s liberation, to return the dowry.

The matter went to ministerial level, and to the credit of the Sultan, the dowry was repaid by the government, an act that no Omani male would have believed possible just six years ago.