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Ethiopian Women Gain Status Through Landholding

Available in: العربية, Español, 中文, Français
  • Land certificates in rural Ethiopia boost confidence, status of women
  • Effort to certify farmers’ land continues through World Bank’s sustainable land management project
  • Major goals include halting land degradation and boosting agricultural productivity

April 21, 2010-Tewabech Mamo gazed at the lush barley field in front of her home in the Ethiopian highlands. Mist rose from a nearby stand of thriving eucalyptus trees she planted after receiving title to more than a hectare of farmland. Today, she displays her name and photo in the green booklet affirming her land rights.

"It's as precious as a child ─ like my own son," the 52-year-old mother of four sons and two daughters says of her land certificate.

She got it after divorcing her husband and receiving half the family land.

"I'm happy, I'm proud. This certificate made me equal with the men. No one is trying to mistreat me. I have this and now I'm a proud citizen."

Mamo is among 349 female landholders in Gola Kebele, a small farming community in Asagirt Woreda south of bustling Debre Birhan, where a Chinese firm is constructing a major north-south highway.

Asagirt Woreda, or district, is considered a food-insecure area. Despite its beauty it suffers from depleted soils, erosion and low agricultural production. The World Bank and other international organizations have supported efforts to boost agricultural productivity and livelihoods through fertilizer, other farming inputs and cash-for-work programs.

But the key to reviving agriculture in the region may be a land certification effort that has reassured farmers their land won’t be taken from them without compensation, as has happened in the past.

Women Gain New Confidence

A 2008 study funded by the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan found that Ethiopia’s large-scale land certification effort—covering 6.3 million households in Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and Southern nations, nationalities, and peoples over five years—reduced conflicts, encouraged farmers to plant trees and use their land sustainably, and improved women’s economic and social status.

 Klaus Deininger, lead rural development economist in the World Bank’s Development Economics Group, says, “Women told us land rights were important to them, even if their traditional roles stayed the same.”

Two years later, several women in two districts of Amhara say they’ve gained new confidence along with their land rights.

“There have been significant changes in women’s roles and relationships,” says Zewditu Assefa, a 35-year-old mother of five who inherited her 3 hectare farm from her father after divorcing her husband.

“Previously, they couldn’t own property, so that really put women in a very weak position to bargain or deal with men in society. Now that’s not the case.”

Security Concerns Addressed

Land insecurity, present since the monarchy ruled Ethiopia, worsened among farmers when the Marxist Derg regime nationalized all land and redistributed it in the 1970s and ‘80s. The Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Democratic Front took power in 1991, and has since introduced a number of policy and legal reforms aimed at improving tenure security and land management.

Women have come to understand their rights and the benefits associated with them, not only in terms of land, but overall. Land certification gave women real confidence and helped them get out of their traditional kitchens.


-Adds Asresash Hailu, Woreda Women’s Affairs Office, Antsokia Gemza district, Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia

Prior to the land certification effort, Asagirt Woreda endured conflict—even killings—over land that drove some residents away, local land administration officials say. But those problems have largely been put to rest now that all of the district’s 10,783 farming households have been certified.

It’s a similar story in Antsokia Gemza Woreda in the Great Rift Valley, where nearly all of the 15,243 households have been registered and where land rights have been claimed by about 1,000 more women than expected.

Previously, women didn’t have any rights to property. Divorced women could expect little more than a sack of grain as a parting gift from their former husbands. Now, they are entitled to 50 percent of the property. Wives and widows, commonly hailing from outside the community, previously had only tentative claim over their husband’s land.

“Before getting the certificate in my name, it was just socially understood that the land belonged to my husband,” says Tashegu Woretaw, 48, a widow with a hectare of land near Mamo’s farm.

“If anything happened to me, I was supposed to leave the home without having anything out of our common property. So I was not really interested in putting any long-term investment in the land. After getting the certificate, I planted eucalyptus and also prepared part of it for grass for fattening small stocks and oxen.”

Certification Effort Continues

The first phase of the government’s program, which issued booklets to land holders, was rapid, cheap, and unbiased, aided by democratically elected land use committees at the local level, says Deininger,

The second phase of land certification will involve mapping land holdings using satellite technology.

 A pilot of the second phase of select areas is included in the World Bank’s sustainable land management project covering 35 watersheds in six regional states. The project is financed with a $20 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA), $9 million from the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, and $8.79 million from the government of Ethiopia.

The goal is to keep land records updated, with an eye toward developing a nationwide system, says Deininger.

The overall goal of the project is to halt land degradation, which costs Ethiopia 2-3% of gross domestic product (GDP) each year—a major hit in a country where agriculture accounts for nearly 50% of GDP, 90% of export revenue, and is a source of revenue for more than 85% of the country’s 70 million people.

Farmers as a whole appear to have become more productive since the land titling program began, says Antsokia District Administrator Ato Demiss Kebede.

“Because they have really started feeling the confidence the property belongs to them, they have started to produce more than two to three times as much, and have installed permanent structures and other inputs to improve their land,” he says.

Adds Asresash Hailu from the Woreda’s Women’s Affairs office: “Women have come to understand their rights and the benefits associated with them, not only in terms of land, but overall. Land certification gave women real confidence and helped them get out of their traditional kitchens.”




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