Thursday, October 31, 2013

Omani Women Push Traditional Cultural Boundaries…But Not Too Far

By: Brianna DiPilato
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

 Nineteen-year old, Al-Harrasi wakes up, prays and puts on her hijab and traditional dress before stepping outside. She continues to abide by her country’s cultural norms, even if she is over 7,000 miles away from home.
“A girl’s reputation is very important, she represents her family so she must keep a good reputation and her standards must be high,” Elham Al-Harrasi said.
  Al-Harrasi is currently studying at Ohio University on a scholarship she received in Muscat, Oman.
  “Omani women are not really interested in showing how beautiful their body or face is, as much as they are interested in showing the beauty of their souls,” said Zeyana Al-Jaradi, a teacher at Nizwa College near Muscat.
  In the United States beauty pageants are seen as a way to show off the different beautiful women from around the globe and to also bring countries together.
Participants of Miss Universe 2008 pageant.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

 Omani Representation in Beauty Pageants

  The longest running world pageants are the American Miss Universe Pageant and the British Miss World pageant.
Women from more than 100 countries compete in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants every year.
  Among those countries, a woman from Oman will not be found competing in either one.
  Despite the controversial swimsuit round in each pageant, some Middle-Eastern countries such as Israel and Lebanon do participate.
  Oman is not the only Middle-Eastern country missing from the two world pageants. To take a stand against traditional pageants and to represent their own vision of beauty, women in the Middle East joined together to create the Miss Arab World pageant.
  Countries that are rarely found in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants can be seen in this pageant. Iraq, Jordan and Yemen are among the few countries that are represented. Although looks are part of the judging criteria in the Miss Arab World Pageant, a woman’s cultural pride is also judged.
  Unlike in other pageants, women in this one can choose to wear their traditional veil as part of their dress.
  In 2010, the Omani woman competing in this pageant dropped out before it began. She felt that the dance moves incorporated into the event went against her cultural values.
  “While Oman is a very progressive country as far as women’s rights, education and careers are concerned, in my 20 plus years of living here, I haven’t seen a real beauty pageant with Omani women participating,” said   Sunaina  Serna Ahluwalia, long-time resident of Oman.
  A native of India, Ahluwalia has been working as a photographer and communications consultant in Muscat. She was also a judge in the May Queen pageant held by the Goan Community of Oman. Goa is a state in India, so the participants in the pageant were women who were born in India and now live in Oman.
  “Young girls from different communities all over Oman participated, except Omani girls,” said Aurene Fernandes, winner of the May Queen 2013 pageant.
  “What amazes me is the fact that even though Omani women do not have the opportunity to express their beauty in pageants, they do find many other ways to do so,” Fernandes said.

Omani Women’s View of Beauty   

  Living in a country where the Islamic Sharia Law rules the government, Omani women are conscious not to break traditional cultural norms.
   “There are two things that our society is based on, Islam and Tradition. In Islam showing your beauty is not forbidden as long as you don’t show it to a random man,” said Halima Al Wahaibi, resident of Muscat. “Traditionally a woman is called a 'Hourma' that means something sacred and pure. Those two principles have been held on to for over 1000 years, therefore, beauty pageants would take forever to be accepted and they may not be at all.”
  As the government moves to a more open view of their religion, Omani women, especially in the capital of Muscat, are pushing traditional boundaries.
  “Most of Omani women wear and cover their hair with a piece of fabric which we call the hijab, but in Muscat there are many women who don’t wear it, like me, and some that only put it carelessly on their heads in which it doesn’t cover all of their hair,” Al-Jaradi said.
  The Omani woman is not required to wear her traditional veil.
  It is also up to the woman if she decides to wear makeup or show her body through certain clothing.
  “Omani women’s view of beauty is developed mostly through trends set by the media, therefore they develop the same desire for fresh fashion lines like the rest of the world,” said resident of Muscat, Hamida Mughairi.
  According to a native of Muscat, Saif Al-Wahaibi, who is also an undergraduate student studying in the U.S., going against what is ‘culturally right’ is bad for a woman’s reputation. Women can be denied jobs and their quest to find a husband can become more difficult if they have a bad reputation.  
Saif Al-Wahaibi with his girlfriend and friends in Oman.
Photo provided by Saif Al-Wahaibi 
  Women’s rights have come a long way in Oman and even though a woman can make her own decisions, being in a beauty pageant will not be one of them.
  “Beauty pageants are acceptable here in America, but not in Oman, we are open, but not that open,” Al-Harrasi said.  

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