Girls and women start sailing in conservative Oman

Omani girl sailors and the women embarked on training courses
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In a country where the great majority of women still wear the chador, girls are going sailing! Now women may be joining them too. Empowerment in Oman has received a strong impetus this week when Oman Sail launched a sailing programme exclusively for women and introduced 30 women sailors to an impressive gathering at Oman Sail’s office at The Wave Muscat.

Held under the auspices of Dr Madeeha bint Ahmed al Shibaniyah, Education Minister, the event marked the launch of the Farr 30 boat, which the women will be competing in during Sailing Arabia – The tour.

Dr Madeeha termed this to be an important event, which will not only empower the women but also create new job opportunities with unique identity to them. The boat has received Royal blessings and has been named Al Thuraya, which has been very significant name to sailors throughout history. It is the name of a star cluster, known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters and its appearance in the sky was critical as it marked the start of the sailing season. To ancient Arab sailors, its sighting was considered a good omen.

For Oman Sail the 'Al Thuraya' boat represents a new sailing future, as since its launch in 2008, Oman Sail has taken nearly 6,000 Omani children for sailing, over half of which have been females. Oman Sail’s CEO David Graham said: 'The women’s programme is the next stage in the project and will ensure we fulfil what we set out for the Oman Sail project to achieve.

The Farr 30 design, which the women will sail
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'After much consultation, we have worked to create the right environment for the women to learn in which will create employment and sports women. The programme is designed to find the right people with the right commitment and we will be communicating with the families every step of the way making sure they understand what we have set out to achieve.'

The Women’s Sailing Programme is supported by Bank Muscat. The programme will take the woman sailors to the next level by instilling confidence and teaching valuable, transferable life skills while also creating jobs and unique opportunities for the nation’s women.

From Oman Sail’s national grassroots community programme to its 2020 Olympic ambitions, Omani women will be trained, coached, qualified, employed, developed and nurtured every step of the way, equipping them with all the necessary skills to excel.

In his comments AbdulRazak Ali Issa, Chief Executive of BankMuscat, said: 'BankMuscat is proud to be associated with Omani Women’s Sailing Programme organised in response to the Royal directive of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos to empower women by encouraging them to develop sailing skills for recreation and as a profession. We congratulate Oman Sail for this initiative aimed at offering new avenues for Omani women to discover the maritime legacy of Oman.'

Omani Sailors have shot to prominence on the international sailing stage over the past three years, taking part in some of the world’s highest profile events, including the Extreme 40 Sailing Series and the Tour de France à la Voile.

Now Oman’s women have taken upon the same opportunity to stand alongside their male colleagues in inspiring the nation and reconnecting Oman with its proud maritime heritage.

The programme got underway in July, when 75 young women attended the first of the Women’s Programme open days at Oman Sail sailing centres. Of these, 40 were chosen to attend a three-week training course, developing their basic skills. A number of these women are now in the middle of a six-month training course equipping them to qualify as sailing instructors and take the first steps to becoming Oman’s first professional women sailors.

Afnan Al Adawi, one of the first women to be recruited for the project said: 'I am so happy and proud to be a part of Oman Sail Team, I got to know about sailing after working as a volunteer at the Extreme Sailing Series that was hosted in Muscat and I loved the concept. Now I got the opportunity to pursue my career through sailing, am so pleased to be selected amongst the first Oman Women Team and I will work hard to make my country proud.'

Double Olympic gold medallist, Shirley Robertson, and round the world yachtswoman, Samantha Davies, have been recruited as project mentors.

Both are inspiring examples of the opportunities sailing can offer a woman, and they will get a chance to share their knowledge and expertise with the new generation of female Omani sailors when Oman Sail enters a 100 per cent female crew into the second Sailing Arabia — The Tour (SATT), a demanding offshore race around the Arabian coas - in February 2012.