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The population was estimated at 72.5 million in 2006 of which 35.4 million, 49%, are females. Population in rural areas attains 41.6 millions, that is, 57 percent of the total (1). Population density in 2005 attained 73 persons per square kilometre (2). Only six percent of the total land area is inhabited (3). The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, but a significant minority accounting for about six percent is Christian (4).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at USD 130,5 billions (8). Per capita GDP increased from US$ 720 to US$ 1 390 between 1994 and 2003, reaching 1 558 US$ in 2005 (5). In 2007, GDP per capita was estimated at USD 1 729 (8). Agriculture accounts for 17 percent of GDP and 20 percent of total exports and foreign exchange earnings. In addition, industries linked to agriculture, such as processing and marketing and input supplies, account for another 20 percent of GDP. Agriculture provides livelihoods for 55 percent of the population and directly employs about 30 percent of the labour force (3). Agricultural activities are concentrated in the Nile Valley and Delta and their desert fringes – the oldlands (6). However, the intensive cultivation system is only applicable to 3 percent of the land area and the country still has to import 40 percent of its food requirements. Almost all farms are small, averaging 2 feddans; 95 percent of them are less than 5 feddans (3). The household holdings of small fowl and poultry are the main regular source of cash, along with daily wage labour during the non-agricultural season (3).

With an Human Development Index (HDI) value of 0.716, Egypt ranks 116 out of 179 countries measured in 2006 (7). For the period between 2000-2007, 18, 4 percent of the total population was living with less and US$2 a day (8). In 2001-2003, 2.4 million people, about 3 percent of the population, were undernourished (9). In 2006, life expectancy at birth was 69.2 years for males and 73.6 years for females (2); while the adult literacy rate was 71 percent (1). More specifically the adult literacy rate for women is 57,8 percent compared to 74,6 percent for men (8).

Women make 21 percent of the labour force. During 1998-1999, 35 percent of the economically active women worked in agriculture mostly concentrated in Lower Egypt, where they represented 25 percent of the labour force, as opposed to 14 percent in Upper Egypt (4). However, statistics often do not reflect the true contribution of women to agriculture because they exclude women’s subsistence production and domestic work (10). Traditionally, women’s engagement in agriculture has not been considered an economic activity; informal work as self-employed or unpaid family workers is the most prevalent form of work for illiterate rural women (5). More than 50 percent of rural women are actively involved in tasks such as fertilization, weeding, harvesting, sacking, marketing and storage. Some also undertake ploughing and irrigation. About 70 percent of their working time in agriculture is devoted to animal husbandry (10). Women also carry out all domestic tasks, including water and fuel collection, and food processing and preparation. (10). Twenty-two percent of all households are female-headed (4).

The 1952 Agrarian Reform laws concerning the land tenure system, distributed holdings to individuals and families; owners could either farm the lands themselves or rent them to other farmers (11). The biggest impact of the reforms was felt by the largest and the smallest landholders. Those with less than 5 feddan increased by 13 percent and the land they owned by 74 per cent. The biggest estates of more than 200 feddan disappeared (12). Further reforms were introduced in the 1970s by reducing the gains made by smallholders and tenants. In 1992, Law 96 revoked Agrarian Reform of 1952. The law was fully implemented in 1997 after a five-year transition period. Contracts during the transition remained valid so rights to land could still be inherited, but the rent after 1992 was increased from seven to at least 22 times the land tax (12). Implementation of the new law brought about large-scale evictions of farmers and violent disputes (12). In 2003, the Government published the present policies in agriculture under the title “The Strategy of Agricultural Development until the Year 2017”.  In particular, the strategy identifies the need to strengthen producer associations and make market information more freely available; enact and enforce laws and regulations on product standards; and develop the extension role of the private sector (3). Although no laws restrict women’s ownership and inheritance of land and livestock or access to credit, women almost never own the land they work on. In 1999-2000, men comprised about 95 percent of land owners, while only 5.2 percent were women (14). The largest portion of female holders, 12 percent, falls within the category of less than one feddan (11).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography