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Protecting the Land Tenure Security of Women in Ethiopia

Using data collected from over seven million land records, this study examines the extent to which a systematic registration and certification program has contributed to women’s land tenure security. The Land Investment for Transformation (LIFT) program is a six-year DFID-funded program that aims to improve incomes of the rural poor and enhance economic growth in Ethiopia. A major program component involves securing land rights of households through the Second Level Land Certification (SLLC) of 14 million parcels in the four highland regional states of Ethiopia.

Key Findings

The research used a mixed-method approach integrating quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative information was analyzed from a dataset of more than seven million land parcels to understand how the program had incorporated gender considerations into the SLLC process. The approach used three recognized quantitative indicators that use land as a unit of analysis: 1) distribution of parcel holding by form of land holding by gender, 2) the mean size of parcel by gender, and 3) distribution of land area by form of landholding by gender. Qualitative data was also examined from a range of LIFT field studies and also from narrative records relating to the LIFT team’s interactions with landholders, including case study examples of restituted parcels.

Using being named on a land certificate as a proxy for more complete and more robust rights (as defined in the Women’s Land Tenure Security Conceptual Framework), this report shows that the processes used by the LIFT program contributed to more secure land tenure for women. Despite numerous threats to the land rights of women in Ethiopia (identified in qualitative research), evidence from the LIFT program shows that:

  • Out of the 7.1 million certified parcels considered for this study, 77% of the parcels list women either as joint (55%) or as individual (22%) land holders on the land certificate.
  • Comparing the land area held as a percentage of the total owned land area of 3.4 million hectares, 62% is held jointly by women and men, while 16% and 21% of the registered lands are held individually by male and female landholders, respectively.
  • There is no statistically significant difference in mean parcel size allocated for men and women.

This demonstrates that, at the point of certification, parcels are being distributed evenly between women and men, and that land area is also allocated equitably between women and men. The qualitative data suggests that these results might in part be explained by specific effort that was made to ensure that women participate in the SLLC process, ensuring women are more aware of their rights, are better able to report threats to their land rights, and can get the required support to resolve outstanding disputes. The intervention specifically engaged women through specialist staff members on the field registration teams – Social Development Officers (SDOs). SDOs undertake public awareness activities with a focus on women, including: conducting women-only meetings, identifying women involved in land disputes, connecting those women to available support to address issues, and subsequently following up to support the resolution of the disputes, and helping to restore encroached-upon boundaries, on and restitute parcels which were illegally occupied or claimed.

The report finds that the approach taken to second level land certification by the LIFT program has shown that fair and equitable outcomes in land registration are achievable at scale. By demonstrating what is possible, LIFT makes an encouraging and positive contribution to the African Union’s goal that 30% of all registered land should be in the name of women by 2025. Land remains a critical resource in Ethiopia, and the likelihood of women facing land rights violations does not stop with certification; To help ensure the sustainability of the improved tenure security for women, the program advocates for institutionalization of the SDO role into the ongoing rural land administration through the proactive engagement of dedicated staff within the current government structure.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.

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