Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2005, the estimated population was 4 401 000 people, of which 2 241 000 were female and 2 161 000 were male (1). In 2005, the national population density averaged 29 people per square kilometre; however, in the highlands, density reached 200 people per square kilometre (2). In the same year, 3 485 000 people lived in rural areas, while 916 000 lived in urban areas (1).

The population is culturally and linguistically diverse, consisting of nine ethnic groups: Tigrigna account for 50 percent of the total population, Tigre and Kunama for 40 percent, Afar for 4 percent, Saho for 3 percent and Hidareb, Bilen, Nara and Rashaida for the remaining share (3).

In 1995, per capita income was less than US$200 per year (3). In 2004, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$928 million (4). Economic growth was strong in the first few years after independence in 1993 (3). The government embarked on a reconstruction and rehabilitation programme to develop infrastructure, improve food security and absorb the returning refugees (5).

Between 1993 and 1997, the economy grew at around 11 percent per year and per capita GDP reached US$181. However, since then, overall growth has been close to zero or negative due to military conflicts (6). In 2003, the economy grew by 3.0 percent, mainly as the result of a larger agricultural harvest and improvements in transport, construction and public services (5). In 2006, per capita GDP stood at around US$150 (6).

The industrial base is comprised of small-scale and medium-scale industries producing consumer goods such as food, beverages, leather goods and textiles (3). In 2004, over 70 percent of the population depended on traditional subsistence agriculture for their livelihood, including crop farming, livestock raising and fishing (3).

In 2005, the agricultural population included 3 347 000 people – 76 percent of the total population (1). The same year, 1 634 000 people were economically active in agriculture; of the total, 838 000 were female and 797 000 were male (1). The main agricultural products are sorghum, maize, wheat, barley, teff – a form of grain – millet, beans and chickpeas (7).

In 2006, with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.442, the country ranked 164th out of 179 countries assessed (7). Fifty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line of less than US$1 per day and about one-third lives in extreme poverty, measured as fewer than 2 000 calories per day (8).

In 2001–2003, it was estimated that 73 percent of the population, or 2.9 million people, were undernourished (9). Between 2005 and 2010, life expectancy at birth is estimated at 56 years for men and 60 years for women (10). The adult literacy rate was 39.5 percent in 2003 (11).

In the semi-pastoralist and pastoralist areas of the lowlands where livestock breeding is the main stay, women’s role is centred on the households: processing and preparing food and milking goats and cows. The Afar woman has the additional task of tending goats. In highland and lowland areas, where farming is predominant, men and women work in the field and share agricultural activities.

In addition to this, women are involved in backyard gardening, poultry raising, bee rearing, weaving and crafting. Women in rural areas work 14–16 hours a day (3). In 2005, land constituted 86 percent of the country area. Agricultural land was estimated to be 65 percent of the total land area and arable land accounted for 5.4 percent (1).

The land framework legislation is comprised of Proclamation No. 58/1994 of 1994 and Proclamation No. 95/1997 and Legal Notice No. 31/1997 of 1997. The statutes were inspired by the interaction of Common Law with a Civil Law substrate derived from the Italian property law used during colonial times and its French counterparts. The basic tenet of land policy is that all land is owned by the state; therefore, every legal right on land must be granted by the government. Besides state property, the law recognizes three main types of land rights: usufruct on land in farms, housing land in rural areas – tiesa – and leasehold.

By definition, all rights are derived from state property and are therefore temporary. All valid titles are issued by the state and registered by the Cadastral Office (12). The 1991 Transitional Civil Code of Eritrea and the 1994 Land Proclamation No.58/1994 provide for equal status at marriage, equal access to land and equal capacity for owning it.

The Code also requires the removal of any discrimination in property-sharing upon divorce or death, with the acknowledgement of the wife’s right to half of the marital property, irrespective of whether or not she contributed financially to its acquisition (13). This principle does not apply to Muslim women, whose rights are governed by Sharia law. Under Sharia, women may inherit from their father, mother, husband or children, but their share is generally half of the men’s share (14).

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