Gender and Land Rights Database


The country’s estimated population in 2005 was 2 020 000, of which 995 000 were male and 1 025 000 were female (1). The current population growth rate in 2008 is estimated at 2.6 percent. The country has a relatively young population with 39 percent under 15 years of age and only 7 percent over 60. Despite rapid urbanization, Namibia is still mainly a rural society with only 33 percent of the population living in urban areas (2).

In 2005, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at USD 6.1 billion and the per capita GDP was USD 3 016 (4). Thanks to its natural resources, especially mineral deposits, the country has a relatively high national per capita income (5).The mining industry, which accounted for 12.4 percent of GDP in 2007, is only one of the country’s many natural resources, despite the fact that the country is very arid.

Other natural resource-based economic activities include commercial fishing, commercial livestock ranching and nature-based tourism (6). Mining is the largest foreign exchange earner, followed by commercial fishing and closely by tourism. Although agriculture employs 70 percent of the population, particularly women (6), it contributes to only about 9 percent of GDP in 2008 (7). In 2004, the agricultural population was estimated at 921 000, with a per capita agricultural GDP of USD 363 (3). Subsistence farming, either with livestock or cultivation, in the northern part of the country is the primary source of survival for the rural majority (6).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.65 in 2005, the country ranks 125th out of the 177 countries (4). The number of undernourished people reached 0.4 million in 2001−2003, accounting for 23 percent of the entire population (3). Nearly one-third of the country’s people lived under the USD 1 a day poverty line in 2008 (8). Most people living below the poverty line are concentrated in rural areas. Almost 40 percent of rural households live below the poverty line, compared with about 10 percent of urban households (8). In 2001, the HIV/AIDS pandemic affected more than 22 percent of the adult population. Life expectancy fell from 52.4 years in 1998 to 45 years in 2002 and to 40 years in 2003 (6). In 2005, life expectancy at birth was estimated to be 52.2 years for women and 50.9 years for men (1). In 2003, the adult literacy rate was 81.9 percent for women and 83.4 percent for men (3).

Women account for 59 percent of people engaged in skilled and subsistence agriculture (9). They provide more than 90 percent of the agricultural labour, produce cash crops for market, earn household income and are the main providers of food and crops for the household. However, women have little access to scientific and technological information and facilities and are mainly dependent on simple traditional technologies – such as the labour-intensive mortar and pestle, grinding stones, sun drying, wood fuel, hoes and axes – which are widespread in cattle areas (10).

The structure of rural households, now characterized by old people, women and children, has changed because of significant migration from the northern regions to urban areas due to the greater availability of employment opportunities in both the formal and informal sectors. Women-headed households were 45 percent of the total in 2001; in the northern-central regions, women-headed households reached 50 percent in Oshikoto and 62 percent in Omusati (11). During the 2002/03 cropping season, 40 percent of the population active in agriculture was working in female-headed households, compared with 60 percent in male-headed households (11).

Land in the country is unevenly distributed: while almost half of the total land surface is in the hands of a small minority of about 4 500 commercial farmers, 95 percent of the nation’s farming population relies on the 43 percent of total land classified as communal land, which is often of poor quality (6). Under colonial rule, indigenous people were dispossessed from rights to land and resources. Germans and then white South African settlers established commercial farms and related businesses (13). Freehold tenure was reserved for white settlers, while indigenous people had no tenure security, except in native reserves called Bantustans, where land rights were provided under indigenous tenure systems (5).

In 1995, the Agricultural [Commercial] Land Reform Act was enacted to provide for redistribution of commercial farm land in response to the slow pace of land redistribution under a willing-buyer, willing-seller system. However, by early 2005, no land had yet been expropriated although as many as 25 expropriation notices had been handed out to white commercial farmers (14). Roughly half of the total land area is held under freehold title, while the remainder is commonly referred to as communal land, which includes a number of different land tenure systems ranging from individual rights to residential and arable land to communal rights to grazing. Both women and men in communal lands have usufruct rights from the government although male traditional leaders have rights to allocate land to households (14).

Women generally obtain land-use rights through their husbands or fathers. Even in matrilineal societies, women access land through their brothers or maternal uncles. Men are generally regarded as the owners of land and are assigned plots of land by traditional authorities (11). Neither the Constitution nor other statutory laws contain specific legal provisions on the land rights of women. Customary norms prevail in the areas of inheritance and property rights, thus hampering women’s access to land. No data are available on women’s land ownership.

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