When I first read the title of the article “Sultan’s word is final on who Omani brides can marry” on the Middle East Online website I balked. I immediately jumped to conclusions. I thought how dare a leader have final say over who a woman marries, believing this was just another pathetic case of patriarchal female oppression and control until, that is, I started delving into the article and realized that not all things are always as they seem, and not all issues are so black and white. This was actually something single Omani women wanted, and moreover was in their best interest. In fact, it was a decree that gave them more control over their love lives, since it seems their parents were the ones who had control in the past, and that control all boiled down to the nasty ‘dowry’.
In the past marriage partners for Omani women have been subject to their parent’s approval, and that approval for the most part was subject to the amount of money, jewels etc. that the prospective husband was willing or able to provide. This left single women at the mercy of what some call greedy parents who often forbade their daughters marrying a man that the girl loved but wasn’t able to fork over the necessary marriage booty. Now, those parents won’t have that control, the Sultan Qaboos bin Said will, and that apparently is a very good thing.
The decree allows women to file a petition straight to the office of the sultan if their parents do not allow them to marry their own choice of husband.
Many parents, according to judicial experts, use the court of law to prevent their daughters from marrying, with reasons ranging from demands for high dowries to getting married to a man within the family clan.
Lutfi al Rashdi, a lawyer at Salmi Legal Consultancy in Muscat, said: “What the royal decree basically means is that if the court rules in favour of the parents, then the girl can appeal straight to the sultan and the judgment can be overruled, depending on the circumstances.”
And those dowries can be hefty- as much as 10,000 rials (about $26,000) cash, in addition to the jewelry, and I assume the cost of the wedding ceremony itself, although I’m not sure who is responsible for that cost.
“If the boy cannot pay that, then the woman is not allowed to marry him. It all boils down to pure greed. In other words, daughters are sold off to the highest bidder,” said Fatma Fallahy, 74, a marriage counsellor in Muscat.
And, apparently it’s not just an insufficient dowry that is the deciding factor in who the parent allows the daughter marry. Dowries seem like a drop in the bucket with the potential cash cow of working daughters. Fallahy says, that with more young women going to college,
“Women are also used as a source of income by ageing parents. Imagine having three working daughters and the money the father will miss out on if they all get married,” she said.
The decree is a sigh of relief for women, though sadly for many they believe it’s too late for them.
Salima Khair, 31, a divorcee working at Bank Muscat as a software engineer, wished it was issued seven years earlier so she could have married her sweetheart.
“My father forced me to marry a rich man’s son and not the love of my life. I got divorced five years later because I didn’t love him. I am happy for other women that there’s now a solution, but it is too late for me,” Ms Khair said.
Rahma Alawi, 38, a headmistress at a government school in Muscat, is still looking for a husband because her father rejected all her suitors as they were unable to pay the dowry he had demanded.
“As they say in my village, I am an overripe mango that has fallen on the dust for being too long on the branch, which now can’t find the market, thanks to my greedy father,” Ms Alawi said.
This is the inherent problem with dowries and parents who think more in terms of what they will gain than their daughter’s happiness. Parent’s don’t always know best and marrying without a parent’s approval has its sad consequences, as well. One 28-year-old nurse who married the love of her life against her father’s wishes, is still not speaking with her parents after 4 years. They say money is the root of all evil, and I suppose it applies to this, as well.