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Gender and Land Rights Database

Ethiopia

Prevailing systems of land tenure

All land is vested in the State according to Article 40 of the Constitution of 1995. Citizens have use rights and inheritance of use rights is permitted, but land-use rights may not be mortgaged (9).

According to the Rural Land Administration Proclamation, peasants have the right to use rural land for agricultural purposes, to lease it and, while the right remains in effect, to bequeath it to family members. Property can be acquired, by labour or capital, as well as sold or exchanged (14).

Current land tenure systems do not differ greatly from the land tenure system during the Derg regime from 1974–1991 regarding land allocation. Land is still allocated on the basis of the number of household members; other factors, such as quality of land, size of family workforce and ownership of farm assets, which have a substantial influence on the ability to use land, are not given as much weight as family size.

Farm size in all sample households ranges from zero-landless to 10 ha, although the latter are very few in number and usually are found in the less densely populated regions of Somali and Afar. Despite the distributive nature of current land tenure systems, established with the 1998 land reform, the mean size of farm holdings is about 1.02 ha per household (14).

National and local institutions enforcing land regulations

The federal government is in charge of enacting laws for the use and conservation of land and other natural resources (20).

The federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has been given the responsibility to implement the Rural Land Proclamation by providing professional support and coordinating the competent authorities. The ministry also is responsible for coordinating the work at the federal and regional levels in order to provide necessary inputs for further policy making (8).

Land administration institutions and women quotas

Regional governments have the duty to administer land and other natural resources in accordance with federal laws. Regional governments are also entrusted to administer land regarding “the assignment of holding rights and the execution of distribution of holdings” (14).

Each regional council is responsible for developing regional land proclamations and additional regulations or implementation rules to guide the competent entities at the regional, district, woreda, and community, kabelle, levels (8).

Land Administration Committees (LACs) have been established all over the country. They were given the responsibility to implement field-based land registration and certification.

In the northern regions, LACs exist at the kebelle, tabia, sub-kebelle and kushet levels. They are usually established by popular vote and require inclusion of at least one female member. Because women have heavy workloads and because they would need to be away from home for much of the time during registration, women’s representation among LACs staff members is very low (8).

Registration and user right certification have been introduced in four regions: in the Tigray region since 1998, in the Amhara region since 2002 and in the Oromya region and Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region (SNNPR) since 2004 (20). Other regions have yet to endorse the land reform.

Regional acts codify and stipulate local land administration institutions, which have formulated their own land proclamations in the regional states. However, until recently and under the new land acts, not all of them are fully operational because of understaffing and limited dissemination of information, material and training (8).

Funding provisions to guarantee women’s land transactions

The Ethiopian Women’s Development Fund Establishment Proclamation (No. 240/2001):

  • Art. 4(1) Assist organizations that work for the respect of the rights of women in acquiring managerial skills by coordinating and implementing capacity building, training and other similar programs;  
  • Art. 4(4) organize women around income generating activities or assist intermediary professionals. mass organizations or government institutions in developing the technical and managerial capacity in project administration; 
  • Art. 4(5) encourage women to create and expand small-scale businesses;
  • Art. 5(6) in order to bring about change of attitude in the society regarding gender equality, provide financial and technical support, information, education and communication services that increase awareness.  

Other factors influencing gender differentiated land rights

Women’s rights to land are sidelined despite the legal provisions that envisage joint ownership of husbands and wives. In practice, issues related to the rights of widows, divorced women and polygamous wives are ignored (8). Although the Constitution guarantees women’s rights upon dissolution of marriage, in reality the only way for widows or divorced women to secure their rights to land is to enter into marriage with one of their brothers-in-law. Indeed, if women return to their natal homes, they will not be provided for because traditional inheritance and marriage practices envisage that a woman’s right to land resides with her husband (8).

Laws related to marriage, ownership and inheritance rights remain ineffective because they often conflict with predominant social practices. For example, although the Constitution prohibits bigamy, polygamous marriages are very common in the southern region. Only the first wife is given the right to place her name beside her husband’s on land registration and certification forms, while the right to land ownership for polygamous wives remains marginalized (8).

In addition to being excluded from land and other natural resources, women have limited access to farm inputs. This is a special concern for women-headed households because their livelihoods and the sustainability of their land depend on such inputs (8).

Although land reforms promoted an intensive process of decentralization and regionalization in order to improve tenure security for land users, land conservation and land distribution, the levels of confidence in local authorities vary across regions. Tenure insecurity is particularly influenced by issues such as land redistribution and land expropriation on the part of the government. Moreover, a user’s absence from land, for a period which varies from two to ten years depending on the regional area, results in the permanent loss of land rights. This causes greater tensions among de facto female-headed households (9).

Even though land reforms have contributed to egalitarian land distribution, land rental markets are very active and are dominated by sharecropping arrangements. Moreover, land reforms in the form of registration and certification which aim to improve tenure security for women are not yet fully enshrined in practice; the traditional gender bias against women cultivating their own land leads single women to depend on male assistance or on renting and sharecropping their land (9).


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