Namibia is ranked 21 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 47 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

In 2011, the Human Development Index for Namibia was 0.625, placing the country at 120 out of 187 countries. For the Gender Inequality Index Namibia received a score of 0.466, placing the country at 84 out of 146 countries with data. In 2011, the World Economic Forum ranked Namibia 32 out of 135 countries in its 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, with a score of 0.7177 where 0 represents inequality and 1 represents equality.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

The Married Persons Equality Act, adopted in 1996, provides that the minimum legal age for marriage in 21 years for both men and women.[10]  This is only applicable to civil marriages and not customary marriages for which there is no defined minimum age of marriage. 

In 2007, the government reported that it was considering a bill to recognise customary marriages and set a minimum age of marriage.[11]  Because the current laws are not completely clear about customary marriages, the government has included provisions on child marriages in the Child Care and Protection Bill. The Child Care and Protection Bill defines “marriage” to include civil and customary marriage, and required that a child must give his or her own consent and have permission from one or both parents to get married under civil or customary law.

According to the 2001 census, about 19 percent of all Namibians were married in civil marriages, compared to about 9% of people in customary marriages. Another 7 percent were living as husband and wife without entering into civil or customary marriage.[12]

Early marriage in Namibia is not as common compared to other African countries with the United Nations reporting, based on 2007 data that 5 per cent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, compared to 0.4 percent of boys in the same age range. In 1960, 11 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that societal acceptance of early marriage has declined.[13]

Polygamy is permitted under customary law in Namibia. However, in 2007, the government reported it was considering a bill to regulate customary marriages.[14]  If adopted, the law would provide that individuals can marry only one person at a time, regardless of the type of marriage that is involved. However, polygamous marriages under customary law that have taken place before the law is adopted would be permitted. It is only future polygamous marriages that would be prohibited.[15]

Data from the 2006-07 Demographic Health Survey indicates that 6 percent of currently married women are in a marriage with co-wives. This is a significant decrease from the 2000 Demographic Health Survey in which the proportion was double (12 percent). Interestingly, 13 percent of married women have no knowledge about the number of co-wives they have.[16]

The 1996 Married Persons Equality Act removed the husband’s right to act as the sole head of the family, however this only applies to civil marriages.[17]  Parental authority is now shared by both parents, and they have equal child custody rights. The requirement for equal parental authority also applies to customary marriages.[18]  Parental authority and custody rights for unmarried parents are addressed in the Children’s Status Act. In terms of this law, unmarried parents can agree on which parent will be the child’s custodian, who is also normally the child’s legal guardian. The non-custodian parent normally has an automatic right of reasonable access to the child. If the parents cannot agree, the children’s court can decide this question on the basis of the child’s best interests.

In November 2004, the Law Reform and Development Commission published a Divorce Bill which proposes a no-fault divorce regime which is based on the ground of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, to replace the outdated fault-based system which currently applies.[19]

Intestate inheritance is currently governed by the Intestate Succession Ordinance 12 of 1946 and the Native Administration Proclamation 15 of 1928. Under civil marriage, the kind of property arrangement affects what is in the estate of the deceased. For spouses married in community of property, the surviving spouse is entitled to half the value of the joint estate. The other half forms the estate of the deceased spouse and is divided according to their will. If the marriage was out of community of property, then the husband and the wife kept their property separate all along. The wife would take her property, and the husband’s property would become his estate.[20]  In both cases, in the absence of a will, the estate devolves according to complex race-based rules in the Intestate Succession Ordinance 12 of 1946 and the Native Administration Proclamation 15 of 1928. 

There is no discrimination between sons and daughters under civil marriages.[21]

Customary laws on inheritance are generally discriminatory towards women, with widows often being dispossessed of their deceased husband’s property or land. The property is generally allocated to another male relative of the deceased.[22]  It is reported that ‘wife inheritance’ is also practiced in Namibia, where widows are either forced or pressured to marry their deceased husband’s brother as a condition of allowing the widow to receive any of her deceased husband’s property or to remain in the home.[23]  The Chronic Poverty Research Centre reports that 29.4 percent of widows inherited majority of assets after their spouses in 2006/2007.[24]

Data from the 2006-2007 Demographic Health Survey provides a snapshot of gender equality in house-hold decision making. For large household purchases, over half reported that decisions were made jointly with their husbands and 24 percent reported that decisions were made solely by their husbands. Decisions about daily household needs are primarily made by women themselves (41 percent) or jointly by husbands and wives (40 percent)

[10] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [11] CEDAW (2007) para.15 [12] Legal Assistance Centre (2005) [13] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) [14] CEDAW (2007) para 15 [15] Legal Assistance Centre (2005) [16] Demographic Health Survey (2007) [17] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [18] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [19] Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) (2004); Legal Assistance Centre (2005) p.3 [20] FAO (n.d.) [21] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.81[22] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.85 [23] National Society for Human Rights (2006) pp.16-17 [24] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.20

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

The Combating of Rape Act was introduced in 2000 in response to increasing reports of sexual violence.[25]  The law prohibits rape using a broad definition of rape as an intentional commission of a sexual act under coercive circumstances. The penalty is between 5 and 15 years imprisonment for a first offence, and 10-45 years for a subsequent conviction. The penalty is between 5 and 45 years imprisonment. The law also prohibits marital rape.[26]

The Combating of Domestic Violence Act was introduced in 2003 prohibiting domestic violence.[27]  The law also provides for protection orders.[28]  Sexual harassment in the workplace is also prohibited by law.[29]  In addition to the laws, the government has introduced public education campaigns on violence against women and children and established 13 Women and Child Protection Units to provide medical, social and legal assistance to victims.[30]

Despite the existence of these laws, the US Department of State reports that effective enforcement is hindered by a lack of police transport, poor communication between police stations, lack of expertise in dealing with child rape complaints and the withdrawal of charges by rape victims.[31]  A key challenge is also the under-reporting of domestic violence and rape. The government reported in 2005 that only one in 20 rapes were reported to the police.[32]  Reasons for not reporting rape include the fear of revenge or because they preferred to address the problem with the family of the rapist.[33]  Domestic violence is under-reported due to the fear of reprisals or consequences for families, a lack of awareness of existing rights and laws or the fear of an unsympathetic response from the police.[34]  The distance required to travel to make a report can also be a barrier for women.[35]

Violence against women and girls is widespread in Namibia.[36]  A 2005 World Health Organisation study found that 36 percent of ever-partnered women reported having experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some time in their life. Of these, 31 percent reported physical violence and 17 percent sexual violence. In the 12 months prior to the study, one in five ever-partnered women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence.[37]  Around one-fifth of those women who were physically abused had not told anyone about the violence. The majority of women (62 percent) did not seek formal help if they were abused. Around on-fifth went to the police and 22 percent visited medical facilities.[38]

The 2006-2007 Demographic Health Survey also found that attitudes that accept and excuse violence against women are common.[39]  One in four women aged 15-49 say that wife beating is justified if a wife neglects the children; 19 percent say it is justified if the wife goes out without informing the husband; 16 percent say it is justified if she argues with the husband; and 12 percent each say it is justified if the wife burns the food or refuses to have sex with the husband.

The percentage of women who agree with at least one reason for beating a wife does not vary by the woman’s age, indicating that the attitudes are held across generations.[40]

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised in Namibia, but it affects only a small portion of the population.[41]  There is no prevalence data available.

Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringes upon women’s physical integrity in Namibia. Namibia’s Abortion and Sterilization Act makes it a crime for a woman to seek an abortion, or to terminate her own pregnancy, except in very narrow circumstances.[42]  It is permitted to save a woman’s life or health, in the event of rape or incest or due to foetal impairment. It is not permitted on request or on social or economic grounds.[43]  The 2006-2007 Demographic and Health Survey found that overall 55 percent of married women use contraception and 53 percent use modern methods of contraception. The survey also found that 32 percent of married women had never discussed family planning with their husbands. In terms of attitudes to family planning, women are more approving of family planning, with 82 percent of married women reporting they approved of family planning while 61 percent reported that their spouses approved of family planning.[44]  In 2005 the government reported that Infanticide was increasingly common and is usually committed by young women. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon including the lack of social services to help young mothers, an absence of contraception and the difficulties involved in obtaining an abortion.[45]

[25] CEDAW (2005) pp.30-31 [26] CEDAW (2005) pp.31 [27] CEDAW (2005) pp.32 [28] CEDAW (2005) pp.32 [29] US Department of State (2010) [30] WHO (2005) [31] US Department of State (2010) [32] CEDAW (2005) p.30 [33] CEDAW (2005) p.30 [34] CEDAW (2005) p.32 [35] CEDAW (2005) pp.30-33 [36] WHO (2005) [37] WHO (2005) [38] WHO (2005) [39] Demographic Health Survey (2007) [40] Demographic Health Survey (2007) [41] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2005) [42] CEDAW (2005) p.29 [43] United Nations Population Division (2007) [44] Demographic Health Survey (2007) [45] CEDAW (2005) p.28

Son Bias: 

Gender disaggregated data on rates of infant mortality and early childhood nutrition are not available for Namibia. Namibia has achieved gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education, indicating that there may be no preferential treatment of sons with respect to access to education.[46]  However, the African Development Bank points out that girls may be the first to drop out of school in the event of financial constraints.[47]  The division of labour between boys and girls can also be an indicator of son preference. The African Development Bank reports that girls are more likely than boys to be engaged in fetching water in rural households.[48]  Whilst there is no child-specific time-use data, the African Development Bank reports that women spend on average 2 hours more than men on paid and unpaid work.[49]  This suggests that daughters may experience greater time poverty then sons. 

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Namibia has a male/female sex ratio for the total population of 1.02 in 2012.[50]  

There is no evidence to suggest that Namibia is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[46] World Economic Forum (2010) p.226 [47] African Development Bank (2006) p.25 [48] African Development Bank (2006) p.21 [49] African Development Bank (2006) p.21 [50] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

There are no legal barriers to women’s access to land in Namibia. However, women’s access to land is still limited due to continuing discriminatory practices and limited implementation and awareness of existing laws.[51]  The National Land Policy has a specific gender provision where women are accorded the same status as men with regard to all forms of land rights.[52]  The Communal Land Reform Act was introduced in 2002 to further enhance women’s access to land. The law provides that women and men are equally eligible for individual rights to communal land and the treatment of widows and widowers is identical. The aim of the legislation was to change the practice of dispossessing widows of land they have cultivated.[53]  The legislation also prescribes that at least four members of the 12 member Land Boards are women.[54]  In a review of the legislation, the Legal Assistance Centre of Namibia reports that a major problem is that many women remain unaware of the laws and their rights. Further, traditional leaders did not necessarily have enough of an understanding of the provisions of the law to implement the laws.[55]  The Legal Assistance Centre have also reported that an additional problem to women’s access to land, is the ongoing gendered division of labour and a lack of technical and financial resources to farm the land.[56] 

Women’s access to property in Namibia is dependent of the type of marriage. The Married Person’s Equality Act says that a husband and wife married in community of property must agree to sell, give away or borrow against important joint assets – such as the house, household furniture or livestock. They must also agree before taking out a loan which is secured by joint property. However, women experience discrimination in accessing property in customary marriages, where these provisions do not apply.[57]  The Legal Assistance Centre reports the practice of ‘property grabbing’ which is where widows are dispossessed of their property following the death of their husband. The practice has particularly come to attention in the context of HIV/AIDS-related deaths.[58] There is no legal discrimination against Namibian women in relation to access to bank loans.[59]  The Married Persons Equality Act specifies that a partner’s consent is not required to obtain loans.[60]  Despite these legal provisions, the African Development Bank reports that women are particularly disadvantaged in accessing credit as they often lack the collateral to obtain loans.[61]  Whilst there is no data on women’s access to commercial credit, a 2002 survey found that 44 percent of micro-financial institution clients are women. However, women accounted for only 36 percent of the loan portfolio, indicating that their loans are smaller.[62]  In 2005 the government reported that the Association of Women in Business in Namibia had a membership of around 2500 women and offered training in business management as well as offering loans to women for small business.[63]

[51] Legal Assistance Centre (2008) [52] UN-HABITAT (2005) p.69 [53] CEDAW (2005) p.67 [54] Legal Assistance Centre (2008) p.15 [55] Legal Assistance Centre (2008) p.24 [56] Legal Assistance Centre (2008) [57] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [58] Legal Assistance Centre (2008) p.28 [59] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [60] CEDAW (2005) p.68 [61] African Development Bank (2006) p.16 [62] African Development Bank (2006) p.17 [63] CEDAW (2005) p.66

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees women’s freedom of movement. The 2006-2007 Demographic Health Survey shows the extent to which men in Namibia support women’s right to make decisions about their movement.  When asked who should make decisions about visits to a wife’s family or relatives, 15 percent of married men said the wife should make the decision, 64 percent said the decision should be made jointly and 19 percent said the husband should make the decision.[64]

The US Department of State reports that the government in Namibia generally respects the right to freedom of association.[65]  There is evidence to suggest that Namibia has an active women’s movement with the government reporting to the United Nations in 2010 that women’s civil society groups have been very effective in pushing gender equality issues forward in the general public, particularly in terms of political participation.[66]

With respect to women’s participation in political life, the World Economic Forum reports that women make up only 27 per cent of Namibia’s parliamentarians and 24 per cent of Ministerial positions.[67]

In addition to the non-discrimination provisions in the constitution, Namibia introduced the Affirmative Action (Employment) Act in 1998 which requires employers with more than 25 employees to prepare affirmative action plans targeting women. The legislation is monitored by the Employment Equity Commission.[68]  The Labour Act and Social Security Act provides that women should be entitled to 12 weeks paid maternity leave to be paid at 100 percent of the basic wage.[69]

[64] Demographic Health Survey (2007) [65] US Department of State (2010) [66] United Nations (2010) [67] World Economic Forum (2010) p.226 [68] CEDAW (2005) p.10 [69] International Labour Organisation (2009)


Namibia’s history has been marked by political struggle. Previously a German colony, Namibia was governed by the South-West Africa People’s Organisation until the country won independence in 1990.[1] The country has a diverse range of ethnic groups including the Afrikaner, Baster, Caprivian, Coloured, Damara, English, German, Herero, Kavango, Nama, Owambo, San and Tswana peoples.[2]  Like its neighbouring countries, Namibia has been significantly affected by HIV/AIDS.[3]  The World Bank classifies Namibia as an upper middle income country.[4]

The government of Namibia has introduced a range of measures to increase gender equality including violence against women legislation, affirmative action legislation and family law. With respect to economic indicators, Namibia has achieved gender parity in primary, secondary and tertiary education enrolments.[5]  However, this has not yet translated to equality in economic opportunity and political empowerment, with women continuing to fare worse than their male counterparts on labour force participation, wage equality, income, representation in senior positions and political participation.[6]  Discriminatory practices, particularly in relation to family life and women’s sexual rights continue to pose a challenge to achieving substantive gender equality.[7]  Such practices and women’s unequal position is also attributed to women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in NamiPoverty and unemployment are also factors contributing to women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.[8]

Article 10 of the Constitution of The Republic of Namibia guarantees equality before the law and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex.[9]  Namibia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1992.

d. Poverty and unemployment are also factors contributing to women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.[8]

Article 10 of the Constitution of The Republic of Namibia guarantees equality before the law and the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex.[9]  Namibia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1992.

[1] Central Intelligence Agency (2010) [2] CEDAW (2005) p.15 [3] SAfAIDS (2009) p.2 [4] World Bank (n.d.) [5] World Economic Forum (2010) p.226 [6] World Economic Forum (2010) p.226 [7] CEDAW (2007) [8] SAfAIDS (2009) p.3 [9] Article 10, Constitution of The Republic of Namibia, 1990. 


African Development Bank (2006) Republic of Namibia: Country Gender Profile, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

CEDAW (2005), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Namibia, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NAM/2-3, New York.

CEDAW (2007) Summary record of the 759th meeting (Chamber A), CEDAW/C/SR.759 (A), New York.

Central Intelligence Agency (2010) The World Factbook: Namibia, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 9 March 2012.

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at, accessed 7 March 2012.

Demographic Health Survey (2007) Namibia Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (n.d.) Gender and Land Rights Database, available at, accessed 3 December 2010. 

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (2005) Namibia: Existence of female genital mutilation (FGM) and, if so, the prevalence of this practice, the time and among which ethnic groups it is performed, the availability of protection for women who refuse to have this practice performed and the possibility of Internal Flight Alternative (IFA) (1995 - September 2005), available at, accessed 10 December 2010.International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2010) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, available at, accessed 31 October 2010.

Legal Assistance Centre (2005) Recognition of Customary Marriages, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

Legal Assistance Centre (2008) Protection for Women in Namibia's Communal Land Reform Act: Is it Working?, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) (2004) Report on Divorce (LRDC 13), Windhoek: LRDC, 2004.

Legal Assistance Centre (2005) Divorce law reform. A summary of the Law Reform and Development Commission Proposals. Windhoek, Namibia: Legal Assistance Centre, available at

National Society for Human Rights (2006) Shadow Report on United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

SAfAIDS (2009) Interrogating Culture, Women's Rights and HIV/AIDS in Namibia and Mozambique, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

UN-HABITAT (2005) Land Tenure, Housing Rights and Gender - National and Urban Framework: Namibia, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at, accessed 10 October 2010.

United Nations Development Programme (2010) Human Development Report 2010 Namibia, online edition, available at, accessed 1 November 2010.

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.

United Nations Population Division (2007) World Abortion Policies 2007, Available at, accessed 13 October 2010.

US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Namibia, Available at, accessed 3 December 2010. WHO (2005) Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women, Key findings: Namibia, available at, accessed 11 December 2010.

World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Namibia, available at, accessed at 20 November 2010.

World Economic Forum (2010) Global Gender Gap Report 2010, Available at, accessed 20 October 2010.

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012.


Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: