In 1995, after a decade of political and military strife, Ethiopia ratified a new constitution. This document included recognition of women’s equality before the law. Building on this development, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) and other human rights groups proposed specific legal reforms to codify women’s equal rights in marriage and divorce, property and asset ownership, and the workplace. These reforms passed in 2000.
Initially, only two cities -- Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa -- adopted the reforms but over time the regions of Amhara, Oromiya, and Tigray enacted similar legislation. Ethiopia’s federal government partnered with NGOs on local-level public awareness campaigns to help counter popular resistance. Continued grassroots efforts by ELWA and others pushed for nationwide adoption of these reforms, which came about in 2011.
Effects of the legislation were greatest for young and single women given that older and married women were subject to established norms of marriage that were not addressed by the reforms. An extensive land-registration effort in 2003 complemented legislative efforts to secure women’s rights. This initiative sought to register female land ownership and raised awareness about family law reforms.
Women exposed to the land registration program were 20 percent more likely to believe that they would divide assets equally with their partner in the event of divorce.
Legislation passed in 2000 instituted the following reforms:
Changes to the law were complemented by an extensive land registration effort in 2003 that sought to register female ownership of land and also helped raise awareness about the family law reforms. Women who participated in the land registration program were more likely to understand their divorce and inheritance rights, suggesting that complimentary programs can have a ‘booster’ effect on women’s awareness of their rights.
Element: Property and assets
Pioneering cities Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa and the regions of Amhara, Oromiya, and Tigray played an important role in advancing the cause of gender-equitable legislation nationwide. These early adopters let other cities and regions see the effects of implementation before taking action themselves. Issues of family law and customary legal traditions slowed efforts in less socially progressive rural regions but ultimately these regions aligned with the national trend and followed the examples set by early-adopting areas.
Women who participated in the land registration program were more likely to understand their divorce and inheritance rights, suggesting that complementary programs can increase women’s awareness of their rights.
Elements: Property and assets
The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) had a catalytic effect on efforts to improve women’s rights in Ethiopia. EWLA raised awareness about women’s issues and advocated for reforms at the federal and regional levels. The organization also drafted the legislation that evolved into the 2000 federal reforms and subsequent regional efforts.
The government partnered with NGOs on robust public education campaigns to raise awareness of the need for reform via newspaper, radio, and community events. Meanwhile, efforts by the EWLA and other NGOs improved women’s understanding of their rights and extended legal aid programs to the poor and very poor.
Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and the regions of Amhara, Oromiya, and Tigray paved the way for other cities and regions, which were able to draw on the evidence and efforts of these early adopters when implementing their own policy solutions.