Muscat: The 1980s and 90s in Oman were typically characterised by Omani men with their peer group enjoying their time out, while Omani women had their own ladies-only peer group who would meet outside. Husbands and wives were rarely seen out together in shopping malls or restaurants.
But today, in what could only be termed a paradigm shift, it is very common to see Omani couples of various age groups in public places together.
Salam Al Kindi, one of the leading corporate management consultants in Oman, while admitting the changes are indeed very much visible, said this is a natural outcome of globalisation. “However, in my opinion, I don’t think there is much of change in the culture, with regards to couples going out for dinner or walks. It is more to do with the improvement of the facilities provided nowadays. We have more and better restaurants that provide a good facility with privacy as opposed to 20 years back. Also, we can find plenty of walking areas away from the main roads made specifically for this purpose. These were not very common before.”
Youngsters lead the way
Dr Muna Al Balushi, who was working with Sultan Qaboos University until two years ago, said the changes were brought in by young, upwardly mobile Omani couples. “If you look at the demography and education pattern of the last 30 years, the number of Omani students studying abroad has increased. These students, after spending their graduation and post-graduation studies abroad, return with a contemporary societal perception.
“Many aspects that are taboo in a traditional way cease to be so, for them. My daughter did her college in the UK and worked as an intern there for over a year. Her husband too has a similar background. Today they have changed many norms at least within our family group by leading through example. From shopping for home together, to taking couple membership at a gym to going for weekend night-outs together.”
sMuna said her own 30s and 40s were more about meeting with female friends and cousins over dinner or evening gatherings. “My husband would be out most evenings with his male friends and cousins over tea or coffee or sheesha. We hardly went out together during weekdays and weekend would invariably be dedicated to his parents’ place and mine, where the whole clan would meet over lunch. That ritual still continues, though my father has passed away and so has his.”
Men empower women
Shaddad Al Musalmy, noted Omani journalist and columnist said Omani men are more open now than ever before. “Husbands treat wives as life partners now in everything rather than treating marriage as a business contract where men used to control their wives the way they wanted. The younger generation now believe that Omani traditions do not prevent women from having an equal voice in a marriage and I think women will not to be controlled the way some men want.
"So, because of this, men do almost everything together with their wives, be it going shopping, having evening walks or even doing household chores. After all, marriage is a shared life, not just sharing children and the house, but emotions as well.”
Gassan Al Jamali, who runs his own business, said the new generation of Omani boys and girls are a lot more independent. “They are influenced by their travels abroad for studies, as well as by media like TV shows and cinema that portray such activities for couples as normal. So, they grow up with that mindset and their children also see that as normal.