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Namibia: Whether women who head their own households, without male or family support, can obtain housing and employment in Grootfontein, Walvis Bay and Windhoek; government support services available to female-headed households

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 30 July 2012
Citation / Document Symbol NAM104142.E
Related Document Namibie : information indiquant si les femmes qui sont à la tête d'un ménage et qui ne bénéficient pas du soutien d'un homme ou de leur famille peuvent trouver un logement et un emploi à Grootfontein, Walvis Bay et Windhoek; information sur les services de soutien gouvernementaux offerts aux ménages dirigés par des femmes
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Namibia: Whether women who head their own households, without male or family support, can obtain housing and employment in Grootfontein, Walvis Bay and Windhoek; government support services available to female-headed households, 30 July 2012, NAM104142.E, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

1. Background

Data from the World Bank indicates that in 2007, 44 percent of households in Namibia were headed by women (n.d.). Meanwhile, a 2008 survey of 448 households by the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) on food security in low-income urban households in Windhoek found that 34 percent of the surveyed households were female-headed (2012, 3, 14). According to the AFSUN report, "poor households headed by women," defined as "households [that] have dependent children, relatives and/or friends, but do not have spouses or conjugal partners," have been "a feature of Windhoek for many years" (2012, 14). The same report notes that in terms of income, Namibia is "certainly the most unequal society in Southern Africa" and that the poorest households are female-headed households in rural areas (AFSUN 2012, 10). Similarly, an article published by the Namibian Sun states that the income gap between the high- and low-income citizens "is one of the most marked in the world" and that households headed by women are the poorest in the country (8 Dec. 2011).

In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Director of Women's Solidarity Namibia (WSN), an NGO founded in 1989 that performs advocacy and public outreach on domestic violence and women's economic empowerment, stated that women are legally allowed to own land and obtain their own housing without a male partner or family member but that, in practice, women cannot easily inherit property (4 July 2012). In written correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Young Women Christian Association in Namibia (YWCA-Namibia), a member of the World YWCA that promotes the social, economic, cultural, religious and political rights of women and girls (World YWCA n.d.), stated that in rural areas, many traditional leaders continue to apply customary law that prohibits women from inheriting land (10 July 2012). A 2008 article on women and customary law in Namibia, published by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), a political organization affiliated with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany that promotes democracy, rule of law, and a social market economy (n.d.), indicates that "many Namibian cultures" customarily do not permit women to own property or to control family finances (Ambunda and de Klerk 2008, 57).

The same source states that in most ethnic groups in Namibia, women do not own property if they are married (ibid.). Similarly, a report on women and land rights published by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), a Windhoek-based human rights organization that does litigation, research, public education, and advocacy (n.d.), indicates that women continue to gain access to land through male owners, such as their husband or father (Mar. 2008, 18). It notes, however, that women's land rights can vary between and within regions in the country due to factors such as historical settlement patterns and the extent of Christianisation in the region (LAC Mar. 2008, 18).

The 2008 article on customary law also states that widowed women do not inherit the land of their deceased husband but are traditionally allowed to remain on the matrimonial land until their death or remarriage; however, it is increasingly common for male inheritors to sell the land and leave the widow homeless (Ambunda and de Klerk 2008, 57). In partial corroboration, Freedom House reports that gender-based discrimination has allowed widows to be "stripped of their land, livestock, and other assets in rural areas" (2012). The Director of WSN stated that, even if a woman lives in an urban area, family members will come from rural areas to claim her property under customary inheritance laws (4 July 2012). The Windhoek-based newspaper The Namibian reports that in 2012, the Deputy Minister of Lands and Resettlement condemned the continuing practice of widows being dispossessed by their late husbands' relatives, stressing that such acts are illegal (3 April 2012). According to the Communal Land Reform Act of 2002, however, men and women have equal rights to communal land, including after the death of a spouse (Namibia 2002; Ambunda and de Klerk 2008, 59-60).

The 2008 article on customary law states that there is significant variance among communities in customs regarding property division following a divorce (ibid., 58). It adds that property rights are negotiated between the divorcing spouses and their families, independently of the court system (ibid.). According to the LAC report, a woman can retain land rights if her husband divorces her, but if she divorces her husband, she leaves the home with nothing (Mar. 2008, 22). Similarly, the 2008 article on customary law indicates that division of property depends on which party initiates the divorce and whether there are acceptable substantive grounds for the separation, such as adultery by the wife or the taking of a second wife by the husband without his first wife's consent (Ambunda and de Klerk 2008, 58).

2. Employment

In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the representative of the YWCA-Namibia explained that women who grew up prior to the country's independence in 1990 (i.e., women over 40 or 50 years of age) were not educated and cannot easily find employment (9 July 2012). The representative indicated that it is possible to find informal work in Windhoek but that it is difficult to find formal employment without an education (12 July 2012). Citing 2009 data from the African Development Bank, AFSUN reports that formal sector unemployment is estimated to be 37 percent in Windhoek (2012, 13). Other sources report that the unemployment rate in Namibia is 51 percent among the general population (YWCA-Namibia 12 July 2012; Namibian Sun 15 Sept. 2011) and 58 percent among women (ibid.).

The YWCA-Namibia representative stated that work is more readily available to single uneducated women in Walvis Bay, particularly in fish factories (12 July 2012). She also indicated that in Grootfontein, women may be able to find work in markets, on farms, and in offices as cleaners (YWCA-Namibia 12 July 2012). She indicated that gender-based discrimination taking place in Grootfontein is "silent" and not discussed by women who experience it (12 July 2012).

According to the WSN director, employers extort sex from female job applicants (4 July 2012). Similarly, the YMCA representative stated that employers often solicit sex from single female employees in exchange for a pay raise (12 July 2012). The WSN director also explained that potential employers ask women about their marital situation and other personal issues, because they do not want to employ women with "problems," such as separated or divorced women, or girls who have run away from their families (4 July 2012).

According to the 2007 Labour Act, discrimination of employees or job applicants on the basis of sex, marital status, family responsibilities, and previous, current or future pregnancies is prohibited (Namibia 2007, Art. 5).

3. Housing

Based on data from the 2011 national population and housing census, AFSUN reports that over 70 percent of the population in Windhoek lives on 25 percent of the land in "crowded formal and informal settlements" (2012, 2). Informal shelters, also known as "'shanties'" or "'shacks,'" are described as "self-built housing usually consisting of a wood frame, metal sheeting for walls and a metal roof" (AFSUN 2012, 4-5). The AFSUN household survey found "significantly" higher rates of unemployment in informal housing areas than in formal housing areas (ibid., 13).

Both the WSN director and the YWCA-Namibia representative indicated that women with low levels of education who have difficulties finding work in a city would find it similarly challenging to obtain housing (WSN 4 July 2012; YWCA-Namibia 9 July 2012). The YWCA-Namibia representative explained that in Windhoek, which is overpopulated and has a high cost of living, a one-room house costs a minimum of 200,000 Namibian Dollars [C$ 25,000 (XE 20 July 2012)] (12 July 2012). She explained that due to the very unequal distribution of wealth in Namibia, houses are very affordable to the wealthy minority and inaccessible to the poor majority (YWCA-Namibia 12 July 2012). The representative added that housing is less expensive in Walvis Bay and Grootfontein (ibid.). Land is also cheaper in rural areas, but because women do not customarily have land ownership rights or access to capital, they are unable to buy their own land (ibid., 9 July 2012).

According to the Director of WSN, single women usually end up living in shacks and in informal housing settlements (4 July 2012). The YWCA-Namibia representative noted, however, that municipal authorities have started to evict tenants in informal settlements and clear the land (9 July 2012). In corroboration, the Namibian reports that in June 2012, police used bulldozers to demolish shacks in the Samora Machel district of Windhoek (14 June 2012) and that the Oshakati town council ordered the removal of hundreds of illegal shacks among formal settlements in Oshakati West in May 2012 (18 May 2012).

The WSN director stated that women looking for housing in Namibian cities experience gender-based and social discrimination from landlords (4 July 2012). She provided the example of landlords who do not want to rent to women who are separated but not divorced, because they anticipate problems with the husbands (WSN 4 July 2012).

4. Government Support

Information on government programs providing employment and housing support specifically to female-headed households could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN). 2012. Wade Pendleton, Ndeyapo Nickanor and Akiser Pomuti. The State of Food Insecurity in Windhoek, Namibia. [Accessed 18 July 2012]

Ambunda, Lotta, and Stephanie de Klerk. 2008. "Women and Custom in Namibia: A Research Overview." Women and Custom in Namibia: Cultural Practice Versus Gender Equality? [Accessed 10 July 2012]

Freedom House. 2012. "Namibia." Freedom in the World 2012. [Accessed 18 July 2012]

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 23 July 2012]

Legal Assistance Centre (LAC). March 2008. Wolfgang Werner. Protection for Women in Namibia's Communal Land Reform Act: Is It Working? [Accessed 22 July 2012]

_____. N.d. "About." [Accessed 23 July 2012]

Namibia. 2007. Labour Act, 2007. [Accessed 27 July 2012]

_____. 2002. Communal Land Reform Act, 2002. [Accessed 26 July 2012]

The Namibian [Windhoek]. Catherine Sasman. "Municipality Demolishes Shacks at Goreangab." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

_____. 18 May 2012. Oswald Shivute. "Oshkati to Remove Shacks in Formal Settlements." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

_____. 3 April 2012. Oswald Shivute. "Diergaardt Warns Against Land Grabbing." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

Namibian Sun [Windhoek]. 8 December 2011. "Income Inequality Needs Urgent Attention." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

_____. 15 September 2011. Fred Goeieman. "Most Namibians Still Under the Poverty Line." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

Women's Solidarity Namibia (WSN). 4 July 2012. Telephone Interview with the Director.

World Bank. N.d. "View Data." [Accessed 19 July 2012]

World YWCA. N.d. "Our Priorities." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

XE. 20 July 2012. "Currency Converter Widget." [Accessed 20 July 2012]

YWCA-Namibia. 12 July 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate from a representative.

_____. 10 July 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate from a representative.

_____. 9 July 2012. Telephone interview with a representative.

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Efforts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful: International Women's Association Namibia, Human Rights and Documentation Centre at the University of Namibia, Women's Leadership Centre, Namibian Women Movement.

Internet sites, including: Africa Review; African Development Bank; African Economic Outlook; Amnesty International; Development Africa; Fennia International Journal of Geography; Human Rights Watch; Namibia — Central Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, National Housing Enterprise; New Era; Shack/Slum Dwellers International; United Nations Development Programme Namibia; United States Department of State; World Habitat Awards.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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