Gender and Land Rights Database


The country’s total population in 2006 was estimated at about 40.2 million, of which 30.75 million were in the northern part of the country and about 9.46 million were in the south (1). Women make up about half of the population (3). Population density in 2003 was 14.1 people per square kilometre (2). It is estimated that some 5–6 million people have been displaced from their areas of origin due to conflicts, mainly in the southern part of the country and Darfur. Massive numbers of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are returning to their homelands after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 2005 (1).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 46.2 billion, while the per capita GDP was USD 1 199 (5). The agricultural sector is the backbone of the country’s economy in terms of its contribution to GDP. In 2005, the agricultural sector comprised 39 percent of GDP, of which 25 percent was from crop production and 20 percent was from livestock. The service sector comprised 34 percent of GDP and the manufacturing sector represented 28 percent. In 2007, GDP growth was forecast at 10.9 percent (1). Agriculture is also the main source of employment and household income in rural areas, where 65 percent of the population lives  About 80 percent of the labour force is employed in agriculture and related activities such as agro-industries (1). Oil exports have significantly boosted the economy. Oil exports rose from zero in 1998 to USD 4 187 million in 2005, when they accounted for 85 percent of exports (6).

In 2005, the Human Development Index (HDI) value was 0.526, ranking 147th out of the 177 countries for which the HDI is calculated (7). In 2002, some 20 million people were living below the poverty line of less than USD 1 a day. The incidence of poverty varies considerably between regions. People living in areas that have been or continue to be affected by drought and conflicts – particularly the south and Darfur – are the most vulnerable to poverty (2). In 2006, about 2.5 million people in Darfur and nearly 3 million in the south, east and transitional areas required food assistance (2). Women suffer the greatest burden of this situation. Also, in the post-conflict setting, displaced women are continuously exposed to rape and sex exchanges, which put them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS (8). The HIV prevalence rate in adults, ages 15−49, was 15.4 percent among males and 23.8 percent among females in 2004 (4). From 2000−2005, life expectancy at birth was estimated to be 57.8 years for women and 55 years for men (3). In 2004, the adult literacy rate was 52 percent for women and 71 percent for men (4).

The 1993 population census estimated that 24.7 percent of the female population was economically active. Female participation in paid labour was estimated at 26.5 percent, while about 80 percent of rural women worked in the agricultural sector (8). Traditionally, women in the country have always been active in agriculture and food security, although with wide regional variations. In the northern, eastern and central regions, women’s activities are performed within their households. Women are equal partners in traditional household farming, but their participation diminishes as the farms become commercial or part of pump-irrigated schemes where outside labour is introduced. In the western and southern parts of the country, women contribute as much as 80−90 percent of labour for household production and roughly 70 percent of the labour for agricultural production (10). In the western part of the country, as a result of droughts and declining incomes from agriculture, many men have migrated to urban centres, large commercial schemes or overseas, while in the south, more men joined the fighting or were killed or disabled. As a result, women in these regions have taken the responsibility for household food production and for growing cash crops. In the large agricultural schemes of the central region, women provide the seasonal labour for cotton picking, ginning and weeding (10). From 1991–1997, 13 percent of households were headed by women (9).

In colonial times, the British administration accepted customary rules over land, though the title to land was vested in the Government. After independence, legislation introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly the Unregistered Land Act of 1970 and the Civil Transaction Act of 1984, strengthened the privileges of the State and allowed elites close to government to acquire land at the expense of rural people. Expropriations were common, particularly in southern Kordofan affecting mostly illiterate farmers and pastoralists who lost their land to mechanised farming schemes.

Similar displacements occurred in the 1990s, particularly in oil concession areas such as Unity State (11). The land question was one of the core issues behind the protracted war between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the southern regions of the country (12). Following the 2005 CPA, the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the newly established interim Government of South Sudan (GoSS) have established their land commissions to address issues of land policy, including the ownership of land and subterranean resources, at the central and regional levels (12). In rural areas, the institutions embedded in tradition and customary law govern issues of land access, even when they are not recognised officially by the law. Normally, women access land and property through their male family connections and the community (13).

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