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Gender and Land Rights Database

Ethiopia

Rights entrenched in the Constitution

The Constitution, adopted in 1994 came into force on 21 August 1995:

  • Article 9 [1]: “The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or a public official which contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect.”
  • Article 25 states that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without any discrimination on the basis of sex. 
  • Articles 34 [1] and 35 [2] explicitly recognize men and women’s equal rights while entering into, during marriage and at the time of divorce
  • Article 34 [4] allows for the enactment of a law recognizing religious and customary marriages.
  • Article 35 [1]: “Women shall, in the enjoyment of rights and protections provided for by this Constitution, have equal right with men.”
  • Article 35 [3] allows for affirmative measures to remedy the historical legacy of inequality and discrimination suffered by women in the country, enabling them to “participate and compete” equally with men in political, economic and social fields.
  • Article 35 [4] states that laws, customs, practices and stereotyped ideas that oppress women and adversely affect their physical and mental well-being are prohibited.
  • Article 35 [7] recognizes women’s equal rights to acquire, administer, control, use, transfer and administer property. They shall also enjoy equal treatment in the inheritance of property. 
  • Article 40 [1] guarantees the right to property. This right shall include the right to use and enjoy and to sell and transfer property by succession or by any other means.
  • Article 40[3]: “The right to own rural and urban land and natural resources belongs only to the state and the people. Land is an inalienable common property of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia.”
  • Article 40 [4]: “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.”
  • Article 40 [5]: “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”
  • Article 40 [6]: “Without prejudice to the right of Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples to the ownership of land, government shall ensure the right of private investors to the use of land on the basis of payment arrangements established by law. Particulars shall be determined by law.” 
  • Article 40 [7]: “Every Ethiopian shall have the full right to immovable property he builds on the land and to the improvements he brings about on the land by his labour or capital. This right shall include the right to alienate, to bequeath and, where right of use expires, to remove his property, transfer his title, or claim compensation for it.” (10)
  • Article 40 [8]: “Without prejudice to the right to private property, the government may expropriate private property for public purposes subject to payment in advance of compensation commensurate to the value of the property.”
  • Article 51 [5]: the Federal Government is responsible for enacting laws for the utilization and conservation of land and other natural resources, historical sites and objects.
  • Article 52 [2] [d] states that States have powers and functions to administer land and other natural resources in accordance with Federal Laws.
  • Article 97 [2] provides that States be responsible for determining and collecting fees for land usufractuary right (10).

Women's property and use rights in personal laws

The Revised Family Code, 2000: 

  • Recognizes equality between women and men. It rules over customary law in the regulation of marriages. 
  • Art. 7: men and women below 18 years of age cannot conclude marriage. 
  • Art. 28: all marriages whether civil, religious or customary must be registered (11).
  • Art. 11: Prohibits bigamy.
  • Article 50 [1] grants spouses equal rights in the management of the family (12).
  • Art. 59: recognize the equal rights of a married woman to the possession and administration of personal property.
  • Art. 62: envisages “community of property” in relation to property acquired after marriage. 
  • Art. 66: envisages joint administration of family property. 
  • Art. 68: the consent of both spouses is mandatory for the transfer of common property.
  • Art. 85–93: guarantee the rights to personal property and other matrimonial assets upon dissolution of marriage. Unless otherwise agreed by the spouses, common property is divided equally when the marriage is dissolved.
  • Art. 102: envisages community of property for de facto unions lasting for not less than three years, meaning that a woman who lives with a man without being married still has property rights (12).

Both women and men have use rights to land. Officially, these rights cannot be bought or sold. However, informal markets exist where land is bought and sold without title deed. Land is also rented and sharecropping practices are common in rural areas (12).

The family code allows for joint ownership of land and property in marriage. With some exceptions, the Code makes all marriages in community of property for property acquired after marriage, according to Article 62. Consent of both spouses is required for property transfers, according to Articles 58, 63 and 68 (12).

Labour Proclamation No. 42/1993 of 20 January 1993:

  • Section 87: Protection of women against discrimination in employment and payment.  
  • Section 88: Protection of the pregnant woman.

Inheritance legal mechanisms

Civil Code, 1960:

  • Art. 842: states that the children of the deceased are the first to be called to succeed. Each descendant receives equal shares of the succession.
  • Art. 837: declares that “sex, age and nationality of the heir shall not affect in any way the ascertainment of rights to succession” (13).

Proclamation to amend the Proclamation No. 56/2002, 70/2003, 103/2005 of Oromia Rural Land Use and Administration Proclamation (No. 130 /2007)

  • Strengthens inheritance rights in the form of use rights of land within the family, giving equal rights to inheritance for sons and daughters (11).

Land Legislation


The Proclamation to Provide for Public Ownership of Rural Lands No 31 of 1975 nationalized all land throughout the country.

  • Art. 3 [1] and 3 [2] eradicate private land tenure and replace it with public ownership (14).
  • Art. 4 (1): without differentiation of sexes, any person willing to personally cultivate land shall be allotted rural land sufficient for his maintenance and that of his family.
  • Land was redistributed and allocations were based on household size. The government also followed a “land-to-the-tiller” ideology, where land was allocated on the basis of the ability to till rather than on the basis of needs (8).
  • Art. 4 (3): The law provided that 10 hectares of land is the maximum a family can possess. Able adult people were not allowed to use hired labour to cultivate their holdings (14).

Federal Rural Land Administration Proclamation No 89/1997:

  • Replaces the 1975 Proclamation.
  • Section 6(2), assigns holding rights sufficient for subsistence both to peasants and nomads (8).
  • Section 5(4): Emphasizes “the equal rights of women in respect to the use, administration and control of land as well as in respect to transferring and bequeathing holding rights” [Federal Negarit Gazeta, 1997] (12).

Land Administration and Land Use Proclamation No. 456/2005:

  • Replaces the 1997 one and acknowledges the autonomy of regional states in matters of land. Although land is still state property, regional land acts must follow and cannot contradict the country constitution and the national land proclamations. The proclamation is progressive in terms of women’s rights and codifies use rights for women and men in terms of titles that last 100 years. Nevertheless, although it does not officially recognize or support customary law, men and elite farmers, in many cases, are allocated bigger plots than women and small farmers (12).
  • Article 6 stipulates that the size of rural land shall be surveyed and that any holder of rural land shall be given a holding certificate indicating the size, land-use type and cover, level of fertility and borders and obligations and rights of the holder (8).

Among the regional land proclamations and implementation rules and regulations, the most relevant to women are:

  • Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region Proclamation 53/2003, Paragraphs 6 [6]; 6 [10]; 8 [1]; 8 [4]; 8 [5] and 25 [2] A (8).
  • Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region Implementation Rule (IR) 16/2004: IR 7.3 Marriage and Divorce; IR 12 Inheritance; and IR 13 Rural Land Lease (8).
  • Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region Rural Land Administration and Use Proclamation No.110/2007: Section 2, Paragraph 5 [5] guarantees equal use rights on common land holdings between husband and wife (8).
  • Proclamation of the Oromiya Rural Land Administration and Use No. 56/2002 [amended 70/2003]: Paragraphs 6.6; 6.7; 6.8; 15.2; 15.4; 15.5 (8).
  • Oromiya Rural Land Administration and Use Regulation of 2003:
    - Section 3 regulates the responsibility given with the right to access and use rural lands
    - Section 10 regulates land-use right security (8).
  • Oromiya Region Proclamation No. 130/2007 to amend proclamation No 56/2002, 70/2003, 103/2005 of Oromiya Rural Land Use Administration:
    - Art. 15 [8] guarantees that husband and wife owning a common land holding will be given a joint certificate of holding with both their names.
    - Art. 15 [9] recognizes the equal right of both spouses to have a holding certificate for their personal private holdings (8).

Policies/Institutional mechanisms enforcing or preventing women’s land rights

Since 1998, there have been systematic registration and user-right certification programmes in different regions: 

  • Tigray was one of the first regions to implement the land registration and certification programme; 
  • The Amhara Region followed in 2003 introducing the programme with some donor support; 
  • The Oromia and Southern Regions started the implementation in 2004.

Land Administration Committees (LACs) have been created from the regional level to the community level to implement the programme centred on registration and certification of land rights (9).

The federal government announced a National Policy on Women in 1993, referred to as “Women's Policy”, and the promulgation of a new gender-sensitive Constitution in 1995 (15).

A Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (SDPRP) was initiated in July 2002.

  • One of its challenges is protecting property rights by holding registration and by issuing certificates that are supposed to guarantee that holders – at least for a period of 20–30 years – will not face the loss of their land from government land redistribution (16).

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