Gender and Land Rights Database


In 2005, the country’s population was estimated at 8 354 000, of which 4 215 000 were female and 4 139 000 were male. Population density was 13 people per square kilometre (1). The rural population in 2006 accounted for 64 percent of the total (2). Nomads and semi-pastoralists, who are dependent upon livestock for their livelihood, make up a large portion of the population (4).

In 2008, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to be US$2.6 billion (4). The same year, GDP per capita on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis was US$600 (5). In 2008, agriculture contributed 65 percent to the country’s GDP, industry 10 percent and services 25 percent (4). Despite the prolonged political instability, the country has a lively informal economy largely based on livestock, remittance-money transfer companies and telecommunications. Livestock, hides, fish, charcoal and bananas are the country’s principal exports, while sugar, sorghum, corn, qat and machined goods are the principal imports. In the absence of a formal banking sector, money transfer-remittance services have sprouted and handle about US$2 billion in remittances annually (4). Remittances are a major contribution to the economy, supporting various private sector activities, which have helped generate employment. The small manufacturing sector is based mainly on processing agricultural products (2). Agriculture is the most important sector, with livestock normally accounting for about 40 percent of GDP and 65 percent of export earnings (4) and employing 71 percent of the country’s labour force (6). The major crops are sorghum and maize and some beans, rice and sesame. Most agricultural and livestock production is in the hands of smallholders. The country is subject to various natural hazards such as drought and flood, which cause crop and livestock losses. Poor rainfall impacts the availability of water and pasture in the pastoral areas, which increases resource-based conflicts in the communities (6).

The country is not ranked on the Human Development Index. As of 2007, between 1.8 and 2 million people, including about 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance and livelihood support for at least six months (6). The figure increased to more than 3.2 million people in 2009, representing approximately 43 percent of the population (7). The civil conflict, the lack of governance for over 16 years, continuing insecurity in many parts of the country and inadequate access to basic services and infrastructure have contributed to worse welfare and famine than before the civil war (5). As of 2009, malnutrition in most of the southern and central parts of the country has surpassed emergency thresholds of 15 percent, exceeding 20 percent in some areas (7). An estimated 43 percent of the population lived under the US$1 per day poverty line in 2008. Among rural and nomadic populations, 53 percent lived under the US$1 per day poverty line. Seventy-three percent of households lived under the US$2 per day poverty line and 80 percent of rural and nomadic populations live at this level in 2008 (5). Life expectancy at birth in 2006 was estimated at 46.3 years for males and 48.7 years for females (10). Literacy rates were 49.7 percent for males and 25.8 percent for females in 2006 (6). The civil war and widespread conflicts have contributed to the growing share of widows in the population, which reached 4.2 percent in 2002. In 2002, the total share of female-headed households was estimated at 12.6 percent; the share of female-headed households was 14.3 percent in urban areas and 11.7 percent in rural and nomadic areas (9).

In 2007, women accounted for 55.4 percent of the 3.5 million economically active people (3). Women are crucial in collecting water and in all elements of family sustenance; as of 1995 they provided 66 percent of labour in subsistence farming (8). In crop production, women and men share activities. For example, in banana production – the main cash crop and an important export commodity in the country – women fertilize and transport bananas to packing centres, while men irrigate and harvest the bananas. Women are also responsible for marketing mangos, potatoes, lemons, watermelons, vegetables and firewood to supplement their family income (8). Women contribute substantially to rearing livestock. Pastoral women have a pivotal role in managing livestock, trading and selling milk and ghee (8).

Practices concerning land rights vary between rural and urban areas. In precolonial times, traditional claims and interclan bargaining were used to establish land rights. During the colonial period, the Italians ruled one part of the country, while the British ruled another part. Land was confiscated by the colonial authorities and ruled under a western tenure regime in which individuals could exclusively and privately own land. (11). A small market for land, especially in the plantation areas of the south, developed in the colonial period and into the first decade of independence. After independence in 1960, the socialist regime sought to block land sales and tried to lease all privately-owned land to cooperatives as concessions (12). The struggle for land was intensified with the passage of the Agricultural Land Law of 1975 which transferred control over all land to the state. Individuals were required to register their holdings as state leaseholds and concessions within six months from the enactment of the law. Cooperatives and state farms received preferential access to land in the process, particularly regarding leasehold size, number and duration of leases (13). Despite the new law, a de facto land market developed in urban areas; community-based tenure systems continue to regulate access to land in most parts of the country and the traditional rights of clans have been maintained (12). Land or resource-based disputes are very common, generally involving clan politics or issues over clan homelands. Competing claims of ownership are common in urban areas, frequently over land that was once public. In the dryland grazing areas, disputes over access to water cisterns, increasing sedentarization and enclosure of reserves have led to violent clashes. In 2007, the land committee of the Somali National Reconciliation Conference declared that “all land acquired by misuse of power between independence and 1991 must be returned, that all land occupied by clan militias during the civil wars must be vacated and that a concerted effort must be made to repossess all government fixed assets and to hold to account those who have profited from their use” (14).
In 1991, the former British protectorate of Somaliland declared unilateral independence. In 1998, the Puntland region also declared unilateral independence as a “State of Somalia” (14). Unlike Somaliland, Puntland does not seek outright independence but aims to be part of a federal state. Although the two states entertain diplomatic relations with several countries, at present, they have not been recognized internationally.

Somaliland, situated in the northern part of the country, has an area of 137 600 square kilometres. In 2008, the population is estimated at 3.5 million, with a density of 25 people per square kilometre. Fifty-five percent of the population is either nomadic or semi-nomadic, while 45 percent live in urban centres or rural towns. The backbone of the economy is livestock. The total number of livestock in the country is estimated at 24 million in 2008. The agricultural belt – Borama-Baki-Gebiley-Hargeisa – is inhabited by the 5–15 percent of the population who form the agropastoral group. Farming is mainly considered as a complement to livestock production. The average farm size is 8 ha. About 10 percent of the total area of Somaliland is classified as suitable for agricultural production, of which 3 percent is actually under cultivation. Maize and sorghum are the predominant crops and are grown under rainfed farming by widely scattered smallholders. Due to weather variability, extreme fluctuations in production and yield are common (15).
The total area of the State of Puntland, located in the northeast region, is 212 510 square kilometres, roughly one-third of the country’s total area. IN 2008, the city of Boosaaso had more than one million people, overtaking Mogadishu as the most populous city in the country following the civil war. The total population is estimated at 2.4 million in 2008, of which 65 percent are nomadic. The population mainly depends on livestock products for its livelihood. Livestock products not only contribute to the livelihood of the nomads, but also are a substantial portion of the daily food intake of the population living in rural and urban areas. Livestock exports contribute to approximately 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings, 40 percent of the GDP and 60 percent of employment opportunities. The fishing industry is the second-highest source of income for the population; it provides direct employment to thousands of people during the eight-month fishing season and indirect employment for people working in restaurants and other enterprises. During the fishing season, temporary settlements are created along the coastline where women take goods for sale to earn income. Remittances from the diaspora also play a major role in the economy (16).

Although women in the country are not prohibited from inheriting and acquiring land separately from their husbands under community-based tenure, most women do not hold title to their own land since they are guaranteed access rights to the land of their husbands or brothers (8). A study conducted in the Jubba valley before the war showed that women had limited control over land: only 14 percent owned farms – and these were mostly the least productive, least secure, rainfall-dependent dryland plots – and 28 percent owned some livestock. However, it was common for women to have their own grain storage pits, bakaar, which could be stocked by working on men’s fields and which provided some independence (14).

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