Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2005, the total population was 5.6 million, of which 50.2 percent were women. The annual population growth rate was 2.1 percent, while population density was 23.7 persons per square kilometre (1). The rural population accounted for 73 percent of the total (2). The population is composed of 49 ethnic groups belonging to four ethno-linguistic families (3): the Lao-Tai represent 66.7 percent of the total, the Mon Khmer account for 20.6 percent; the Hmong-Mien represent 8.4 percent and the Chine-Tibet are 3.3 percent (1).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 4.1 billion, while the per capita GDP was USD701 (4). The GDP has grown by 6.3 percent annually from 1991 to 2000 and by 5.6 percent between 2001 and 2004. Agriculture plays the main role in economy: in 2004, the sector accounted for 49.6 percent of the GDP and employed 80 percent of the total work force. Industry and services contributed for 27 and 25.5 percent of GDP respectively (1). Crops account for 54 percent of the agricultural GDP, livestock and fisheries account for 36 percent, and forestry accounts for 10 percent. Rice comprises over 90 percent of the total crop production, with nearly 95 percent of farming households growing rice for their own use. However, agricultural productivity is low and the average household income from farming is about USD 200 per ha. Farm households average 1.6 ha per household and only 18 percent of households have access to irrigation. The sector is predominantly subsistence-oriented and shifting agriculture systems are used on about one third of the total cultivated area. Arable land is 4 percent of the total land area, while forests cover 54 percent (3).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.608 in 2006, the country ranks 133rd out of 179 countries (5). In 2002, 44 percent of the population lived under the USD 1 per day poverty line (6). In 2002-2004, 19 percent of the population was undernourished (7). Life expectancy at birth in 2004 was 57 years for women and 54 for men (1). Data on literacy show a wide gender gap: the literacy rate was 61 percent for women and 77 percent for men in 2004 (1). Literacy rates are lower in rural areas, where only 65 percent of the population is literate (8), and among women of ethnic groups who make 70 percent of the illiterate population (3).

In 2006, 53.4 percent of women were economically active (6). Women comprised 48.6 percent of the agricultural labour force in 2003-2005 (9); however, statistics do not include the amount of women’s unremunerated family labour invested in farm work. Rural women are responsible for: 50 to 70 percent of paddy and upland rice growing; 50 percent of household’s animal husbandry work; 30 to 50 percent of fishing; at least 50 percent of cash crop production; 70 percent of opium production in ethnic minority villages; and a large proportion of household vegetable gardening. In addition, women take care of the collection of firewood and other forest products, which are an essential to about 93 percent of households that use wood as a source of fuel (10).

Legally, all land is owned by the state that is responsible for its allocation to individuals, families and organizations (11). Since the early 1990s, land policies for the distribution and legalisation of land rights to citizens have followed two different paths for rural land and for urban land. In rural areas, land allocation is implemented, while in urban and peri-urban areas, actual land titling has being ongoing since 1997 (12). During the last few years of the land reform programme, over 100 000 land titles have been granted to people, although mostly in urban areas (3). In rural areas, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has allocated state land to community organizations and individual users through the issuance of land use certificates for agricultural and forest land (3). It is estimated that between 600 000 and 1 000 000 temporary land use certificates have been issued during the last ten years; however, none of these titles had been converted in permanent ownership title as of 2004 (12).

Daughters make up a majority of those who inherit from their parents due to the presence of matrilineal communities and to the custom whereby the youngest daughter inherits the land and the house by taking care of the parents (10). However, many more land use certificates and titles have been issued in the husbands’ names only, especially in rural areas. In addition, among the couples that had jointly acquired land parcels under the land reform programme, only a small percentage received joint certificates and titles (11). In 1998-1999, women holders accounted for 9.07 percent of the total (13).

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