It’s a Man’s World

Nizwa souk

Watermelon and men at the Nizwa Souq in Oman

As I was marveling at the bright colors of the watermelon, eggplant, and tomatoes against the typical Omani cream-colored backdrop of souq buildings – I felt that something was ‘off’ – but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I continued to walk around the Nizwa souq (market) with our guide Zahar but since I was taking pictures I was always lagging behind running to catch up. As I looked through the viewfinder and framed up a shot – it hit me. I pulled the camera from my face and looked around once again – there were no women in this market. Not one.

All of a sudden I became quite aware of my own femininity and that of our Exodus hiking group which included 8 women. I asked Zahar why there were only men at the market. Granted – I was well aware that I was in a Muslim country, but I still normally see women at the markets doing the shopping for produce and household goods. Zahar simply said that traditionally the men did the shopping and the women took care of the children. I asked him if the women or men cooked at home and he said that traditionally the women cooked meals. So this was a first for me – a souq full of men doing the shopping.

Granted all countries are different when it comes to the role of women – it’s one of the things I like to dig into when I get to a new country. In fact Lisa Lubin just did an enlightening recent write up on Bhutan and the matriarchal role of women. Some countries/cultures are more dictated by religion than others, but the more I talked to Omanis, it appeared that in Oman the lack of women at the market was a bit of both – religion and traditional culture.

For me, one of challenges of travel is to accept the different cultures and traditions when they are pretty out of alignment with my own values and traditions. I’m not going to lie – I find it really hard at times to accept the role of women in Muslim countries, however – it’s part of travel. And I do love the Middle East – it’s one of my favorite areas to travel to as the people are so incredibly kind to visitors – but it has its challenges for me too.

Regardless – a day spent at the refurbished souqs in Nizwa and the surrounding fort is definitely worth it. There were produce stalls, butchers, pottery, date shops, gun shops (for hunting), hardware stores, tourist shops, jewelry, tailors, and there is even a live goat and cattle market held every Friday. So – if you intend to go – go early on a Friday as I can only imagine how wonderful that would be (we missed it by a day – boo.)

Nizwa Fort

View of Nizwa souq and the mosque from the top of the Fort.

Dishdasha oman

Men wear the typical Omani dishdasha robe. You could also buy them here. The tassel on the collar is to dip in perfume/cologne and stay smelling nice.

nizwa souq

Old kettles in the souq

nizwa souq

Shopping for men only.

 

Nizwa Fort

The top of Nizwa Fort used to protect from enemy attacks.

Nizwa Souq

A butcher in the Meat Souq

Oman hat

Traditional hat worn in Oman

Nizwa Souq

Men negotiating prices at the souq

nizwa souq

Pottery Souq

nizwa souq

Wandering around the shops in the souq

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort

nizwa souq

Produce for sale in the souq

Inappropriate dress in middle east

Please don’t do this…

Don’t expect to see any women but tourists – and if you are a female tourist going to the souk – please, please, please be respectful and courteous and cover your shoulders, cleavage, and knees!

 

More Info:
Souqs in Oman
Nizwa Cattle Market on Friday mornings – get there early! According to others who have went – this is not prettied up for tourist viewing: there are cows and goats groaning, the faint smell of manure, plenty of flies, and working men in their traditional white robes drenched in sweat.
Nizwa Fort – Nizwa Fort Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday, 9am – 4pm; Friday 8am – 11am

Disclosure: While in Oman I was a guest of Exodus Travels on their Oman Hiking Tour as a part of a Navigate Media Group initiative. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Your Comments

23 Comments so far

  1. Forest Parks says:

    Fascinating! I lived in Egypt for two years and miss certain aspects dearly.

    Women in Middle Eastern culture are so repressed in many ways but strong in others and it’s certainly no cut and dry issue. My partner was in Egypt studying for a masters in Gender studies so we were knee deep in it all the time!

    As for change and culture. Women’s role and hopefully push towards equality will change but it will be slow and of course certain cultural traditions will hang on and some will be lost.

    I always like to look back at where I am from (UK) and remember how bad the gender balance is still there and how much work needs doing.

  2. Prasad Np says:

    I am very surprised at this, though I have never been to Oman. In India we have good population of Muslims and in some cities like Old Hyderabad we have markets that predominantly cater to Muslim population, but we always see a lot of women in markets. They may be wearing a Hizab but they are present in a good number and bargain with shopkeepers. I guess it is different for each country and is less dependent on the religion and more on the cultural factors besides just religion.

  3. I couldn’t even read the text before commenting – these pictures are striking!

  4. Ayngelina says:

    It drives me nuts when tourists don’t cover up in countries where they should. Travelers should be respectful of local customs.

    Beautiful photos again Sherry.

    • Lucille says:

      I find it so rude when visitors do not follow local customs as far as dress is concerned.
      I was in Italy one winter and had a teal colored rain coat. Oh how I wish that I had a black one or even grey or navy blue I stood out like a sore thumb ;o))) And when I was visiting cathedrals I covered up gesh what is wrong with some people? Should be required to take class in good manners for country you are seeking a visa to visit. Perhaps, that would help some ;o)

  5. Oman is beautiful, there is actually one woman only souk, it is hold on Wednesdays in Ibra city, it is quiet spectacular! Oman is a country of souks, but indeed, mainly men.

    • Sherry says:

      Now you just made me want to go back…desperately!!! That sounds really interesting – do you have any further info on it you can share?

  6. Angela says:

    I’ve been to muslim countries but I haven’t seen anything like this. Women in western countries are always complaining on having to do all of the grocery shopping and here you have women who perhaps would love to go out and buy some watermelon or whatever. Cultural differences are part of what makes travel so interesting, it changes your perspective and makes you grateful.
    Your pictures are great by the way.

  7. Nat says:

    That happened to me when I went to have a look at the Gumruk Hani in Urfa. The lack of women in the crowd actually made me feel quite uncomfortable.

  8. Elisabetta says:

    Great article and great pictures! I am a tour guide in Oman and I’m glad to read your advice to tourists not to walk around in shorts and top. Once I said to my guest “Sorry to ask you to cover your shoulders, but women here wear hijab and abaya, we should respect the local culture”. Her answer was: “It’s high time they get used to have western tourists and accept their own customs”. I was speachless.

  9. Majida says:

    Beautiful pictures, esp. the ones with the old kettles!!
    As to the traditions and the “it is a man’s world”: often it is a question how things are _interpreted_. In Pakistan, you will have women in all Bazars and in all coleur- you will have them in traditional Shalwars with or without covering their head, in Jeans and tunics etc. In Malaysia/Indonesia, /Singapore they have quite a matriarch society, and esp Indonesia and Malaysia have Muslim majority. In Pakistan (where many things do go wrong!!) women drive on their own, I have friends who do. However, every country and tradition has its challenges.

  10. Mark H says:

    What an evocative sounding city.

  11. Beautiful shots! I love your balanced approach to observing without judgement but staying true to your beliefs.

  12. How interesting! The men do the shopping for the women whom cook. This seems like a fair trade to me. Great photography skills. Thanks for sharing, and good luck in future travels.

  13. Alice says:

    Beautiful photos! I have been living in Nizwa for 7 years and though it is not common to see Omani women in Souqs, it is possible to see them there with their husbands (especially on Fridays). Maybe it depends on the time and day of one’s visit. Oman is a beautiful country and women are allowed to work, drive cars and hold top government positions while keeping their values and traditions.

  14. Jenna says:

    Beautiful photos! I can imagine that being there with no other women around would be a strange feeling. And I’m shocked at the woman in the bottom photos…seems like a no-brainer to cover up when in such a place.

  15. Loved the photos in this post. As for the patriarchal segregation of men and women, I faced the exact same thing in Morocco. You’re absolutely right- the people are so forthcoming and friendly, but it IS a man’s world out there. Sheesh!!

  16. Frank says:

    I think the men are getting the raw end of the deal – I’d hate to be doing the shopping! But it’s probably also good pretense to hang around with the guys, on the lookout for scantily-clad Western women.
    Also saw this today and thought it might interest you: http://www.womentravelblog.com/index.php/2013/06/woman-travelling-dubai/
    Love the photo of the old kettles!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  17. rob says:

    Sherry:

    I was in Nizwa last week as part of my Oman adventures – your photos are startlingly similar to mine.. :)

    After reading your article I decided to look carefully on Friday morning when I got to the souk at 7am for the “animal souk”. While most of the women were indeed tourists, I did see a scattering of older (40+) Omani women, in Abayas and wearing the interesting facemask. Mostly these seemed to be the wives of farmers, helping with the animals, and absolutely not talking to anyone other than their husbands.

    Oman’s an interesting place. It’s on my “must visit again” list….


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