The recent celebration of Omani Women’s Day was especially precious as two major awards were won by Omani women, one in science and the other in literature.
Sumaya bint Said al Siyabiyah bagged the first prize in the ‘Starts of Science’ programme which recognises innovation in the Arab world. In the same week Bushra bint Khalfan won the Katara Prize for Arabic fiction for her novel ‘Dilshad, the biography of hunger and satisfaction’.
Both these prizes show the extent to which Omani women have been able to make use of the opportunities offered for self-growth and their tenacity, dedication and focus.
But none of these qualities is enough without the presence of an encouraging environment which values and takes pride in women’s achievements.
Sustaining such achievements requires the participation of the entire community of family, teachers and other stakeholders.
Innovation and creativity is the direct result of curiosity and a nurturing atmosphere. There is much that can be done to encourage young girls to go beyond their comfort zone to discover their interests and potential.
Schools can have dedicated clubs and student groups that are involved in emerging technology like robotics and coding. Introducing them to guest speakers, establishing mentorship programmes and hosting regional competitions will expose young girls to the possibilities and rigour of the world of science.
There is much discussion now about adapting STEAM as the route to education, rather than restricting to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Of course, the 'A' in STEAM refers to Arts.
In recognising arts as an important component in the world of ideas, we learn to focus on all the various aspects of life that make us human. These include who we are, what we believe in, and where we are headed.
In education, the focus on Arts also suggests an emphasis on life skills like empathy and collaboration. It also teaches students to make improbable connections and encourage them to think outside the box.
Numerous studies show the links between math or science to photography, music or even theatre.
Girls are still typically raised to be empathetic, nurturing and compassionate. This typically takes them into careers which feed into such qualities, usually teaching, nursing or other services.
Encouraging them to explore other options while respecting cultural and personal priorities will open worlds of opportunities for them.
The biggest barrier to success is often self-doubt. This is the result of social conditioning as much as a personal predilection.
As most entrepreneurs say, believing in yourself is the first step towards success. But this belief cannot come in a vacuum. Girls need to be told, or be made to feel, that they can succeed, or more importantly, that the world wants them to succeed.
Female empowerment is not just a cliché but a way in which women’s voices are heard, encouraged and recognised. The award winning women of Oman are showing the way forward.
Sandhya Rao Mehta
The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of English Language and Literature SQU