But until recently, Ethiopian women’s unclear and insecure land rights meant they were effectively shut out of these new income and employment opportunities. Women could only act as heads of households if they had no husband. In most cases, only the male head of household was listed on landholding certificates and, in the case of death, the title passed to another male in the family.
With support from the World Bank’s Sustainable Landscape Management Program II (SLMP II), the Government of Ethiopia has made significant progress over the past four years reforming land registration and certification for women across the country so they are able to take more active roles in their family’s farming businesses and community decision-making. The country’s new land certification process gives women an opportunity to fix their own land rights within the family because a household’s land right is registered in the names of both spouses.
Her husband recently died, leaving her with two children and no income to support them.
“With this land certificate, I can decide what’s best for my family,” says Beratu.
Formal recognition and protection of women’s land rights has helped to balance decision-making powers in the family. Reforms have also helped to clarify women’s land rights under polygamous marriage arrangements.
“A key feature of this national certification program is that it has empowered locally and democratically-elected land administration and use committees at the village level to implement these reforms,” says Shewakena Aytenfish Abab, from the World Bank’s Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice. “Women are actively engaged in these grassroots committees, and they are best placed to deal with conflicts and identify cost-effective solutions to land tenure disputes depending on the cultural or religious dynamics of a given village,” says Abab.