Muscat, Oman – With better education opportunities and good office jobs, Omani women are now challenging tradition and questioning marriage more than ever before by demanding equal life partnerships.
Official statistics show more than 3,800 divorces were filed in 2021, a rise of 12 percent compared with a year earlier. More women in Oman are now seeking divorce compared with 10 years ago, government data indicate.
In a country where traditional values are fast changing, statistics from the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs show 67 percent of all divorces were initiated by women last year.
For 36-year-old Fatma al-Hammadi, marriage has limited value if the husband controls all aspects of marital life. She walked out of her eight-year marriage in October last year.
“Marriage is supposed to be an equal partnership where both the woman and her husband plan out their lives together. It is not a marriage if the man dictates all the terms in your life and forces you to play by his rules,” Fatma, a banker in a senior position, told Al Jazeera.
She is not alone as professional women increasingly re-evaluate their home-work situations.
Aisha al-Riyami explained that her two-year marriage was “torture” and decided to walk away from it.
“I ended my marriage last month just two years after we got married. Why? Because I found it very stifling and suffocating,” said Aisha.
“I needed permission from my husband even if I have to go to a friend’s wedding. Why should I subject myself to that torture? I earn much more than he is and can afford to live independently and I don’t need a man to provide for me,” said the 34-year-old, who works as an accountant for an oil and gas company.
Omani women make up 62 percent of the total number of students enrolled in universities and colleges in the academic year 2021-22. Ten years ago, women accounted for only 39 percent of students at higher educational institutions.
‘Battlefield of marriage’
Marriage counsellors say it is increasingly becoming a “battlefield” for modern marriages in Oman if a woman is educated and holds a good position in the workplace.
“Out of 10, about seven of my marriage-counselling sessions involve educated women with good working pay who want better say in their battlefield of marriage. That means 70 percent of them come see me because the wife wants to be liberated from her marriage and stop her husband from controlling her,” said Rahma al-Lamki.
“Some of these women have already decided to walk out of their marriages before they come to see me.”
Some Omani men refuse to acknowledge that a marriage must be based on equal partnership.
“Why equal partnership? A man is not a man if he allows his wife to control him, according to our traditions. A marriage is not a business contract where they control it the way they want it,” Tarek al-Ismaili, who has been married for 44 years, told Al Jazeera.
But not all men agree, especially those from the younger generation, arguing that Omani traditions do not prevent women from having an equal voice in a marriage.
“I think women are right and it is not part of our tradition to control them. Their husbands need to give them more say,” said Salim al-Habsi, a 25-year-old IT engineer.
“After all, marriage is a shared life, not just sharing children and the house, but emotions, too. When I am married, I would like my wife to be my partner and not just a wife.”