International development programmes can have far-reaching consequences, often into sectors or circumstances not immediately obvious or relevant to the programme itself. These knock-on effects can be especially fraught in the case of land, which has important cultural, economic, and social meaning to those who use it. When designing land registration programmes, it is critical to consider the broader impacts on society, on the household, and on individuals, and how unintended negative consequences can be anticipated and avoided.

In this respect, our land tenure work in Ethiopia for the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) has yielded an interesting case study. The process of boosting land security—called second-level land certification, or SLLC—has helped to avert current and future violence against women and vulnerable groups. Studies have shown the SLLC process encourages women to become active participants in claiming their rights and provides them with an enabling and safe environment for registering land rights. There is now a widely held perception that the possession of a land certificate safeguards the rights of women and vulnerable groups such as women in male-headed households, widows, and the elderly.

See the Full Report—written by Gender Expert Gladys Savolainen of NIRAS, Gender and Social Inclusion Expert Workwoha Mekonen, and Felicity Buckle and Matt Woodhouse of DAI—HERE.

LIFTing the Rights of Women and Others

The Land Investment for Transformation (LIFT) programme works to improve the incomes of rural men and women and to enhance economic growth through SLLC, improved rural land administration systems, and Economic Empowerment Unit interventions. It is expected that increased tenure security will economically empower smallholder farmers in the regions of Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, and Southern Nations, Nationals and People’s Region (SNNPR).

Despite laws mandating equal land rights for women and men, women are often systematically excluded from the benefits of land, due to social norms and traditional practices. Customs and traditions denying women’s inheritance and transfer of exclusive use rights to land is common in rural Ethiopia, and these traditions determine one’s economic position and social identity. Often this has led to disputes, and in some cases these conflicts have escalated into violence, disadvantaging the poor and vulnerable.

The LIFT team recently generated qualitative data about land-related violence through focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and individual in-depth interviews complemented by a secondary document review. Findings revealed that the SLLC process brings into sharper focus the historical issues around land access, land disputes, land rights violations, and violence.

The SLLC process gave women and vulnerable people the opportunity to secure their land rights, which had been under threat by family members. Some local neighbourhood authorities supported women and vulnerable groups in making their claims, demonstrating how the SLLC process can be used as a tool to help them protect their land rights and give them access to the services and support they require, which may not have been previously available.

A Woman Farmer  Referring  to  Spatial Data, Emba Alaje, Tigray.JPGEthiopian landholder double checks her land boundaries. Photo courtesy: LIFT.

The SLLC process gives them the confidence, which perhaps was absent before, to submit their claims and challenges, with the knowledge that having the certificate is recognised as credible evidence. Focus group discussions with women in Oromia and Tigray found that women understood and confirmed the benefits of certification, as it provided proof of ownership and protection from border encroachment, and discouraged illegal claims.

The study also identifies gaps in the process, such as a lack of access to information, low capacity of and time constraints on field staff to handle social issues, and the absence of full-time staff dedicated to women and vulnerable groups’ land rights protection at the grassroots level. In addition, there are instances of unresolved competing claims prior to the commencement of the SLLC process and insufficient coordination between government and other institutional structures to respond to the problems.

LIFT has taken steps to address these gaps by assigning a social development officer (SDO) to provide additional expertise and support during the SLLC process. Adding the SDOs improved the participation and engagement of women and vulnerable groups, providing them with increased confidence to report outstanding disputes and leading to the restitution of lost or compromised parcels, the first step to safeguard their land rights.

Making it Stick

To prevent and mitigate any future land rights violations, it is critical that the SLLC process must be robust. The study recommends that the programme:

  • Allocate sufficient time for rights clarification before the start of the SLLC process.
  • Ensure the participation of women and vulnerable groups through public awareness interventions that strengthen social protection.
  • Include a gender and social inclusion expert in the land administration system from federal to woreda/district levels.
  • Strengthen the capacity of field staff to respond to gender and social inclusion issues.
  • Strengthen functional coordination among stakeholders.
  • Improve access to justice systems and procedures.
  • Ensure accountability within the land administration system.
  • Improve collaboration among donor-funded land projects.

The report also examines services available for women and vulnerable people when they face land rights violations and violence, as well as LIFT’s experience of actions taken to prevent and mitigate these during the SLLC process.

We argue that although land certification, through its participatory and socially inclusive approach, can be instrumental in bringing to the fore existing land rights violations and in turn, can avert violence against women and other vulnerable people, it is not enough on its own, and it is beyond the scope of programme-facilitated processes to address all such issues.

Land certification promises security of tenure, which is perceived to bring social and economic benefits to women, vulnerable groups, and the wider community. Secure land tenure can potentially decrease spousal and domestic abuse because of the increased status of women within the household and the community, and improved claimants’ knowledge of their land rights. Acquiring a land certificate, combined with access to resources, can open up opportunities to improve livelihoods, bring about economic independence, make women and vulnerable groups visible, and ultimately contribute to community resilience.

Felicity Buckle is a Senior Consultant in DAI’s Land Tenure and Property Rights; Matt Woodhouse is LIFT’s Strategic Communications Manager.

Read the full report here.