Ethiopia is ranked 64 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 89 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 Human Development Report ranks Ethiopia in 174th place (out of a total of 187 countries), with a score of 0.363. The country was not ranked in the most recent Gender Inequality Index. Ethiopia is ranked in 116th place in the 2011 Global Gender Index (out of a total of 135 countries), with a score of 0.6136.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

In early 2001, the federal government enacted a new Family Code based on the principle of gender equality.[11]  Its effect has been limited in that the Constitution gives full sovereignty to most regions, and most had not passed similar applicable laws.[12]  According to its 7th report to the CEDAW Committee, Ethiopia declared that all regions now have Family Codes that guarantee women’s equality in marriage and family relations.[13]

According to the 2001 Family Code, the minimum age for marriage in Ethiopia is 18 years.[14]  Early marriage is nevertheless common, particularly in rural areas, and affects children far younger than the legal age. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that birth dates are rarely recorded and parents’ declarations of their children’s ages are accepted at face value. Rates of early marriage are high but have fallen recently. From 2000 to 2005, the incidence of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age who were married, divorced or widowed declined from 30 to 27 %.[15]
Young motherhood is considered one of the main causes for Ethiopia’s high levels of maternal mortality. Although a criminal offence, and despite the government’s efforts to effect its eradication, the practice of abducting young women for marriage purposes still occurs in parts of Southern and Eastern Ethiopia.[16]  The 2005 DHS found that 8 % of the women they surveyed had been married in this fashion,[17] while Ethiopia states in its 2009 CEDAW report that national prevalence has dropped from 23 % in 1997 to 12.7 % in 2007.[18]
Polygamy is a criminal offence, backed by sanctions outlined in the Penal Code. The 2005 DHS estimated that 6.5 % of marriages in Ethiopia are polygamous.[19]
With regards to parental authority, the 1960 Civil Code recognised the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children older than five years.[20]  This provision was changed in the 2001 Family Code, which granted equal rights to both parents but problems of enforcement remain. In the case of divorce, children typically remain with their mother until the age of five.

Although Article 35 of the Constitution grants women and men equal rights in matters of inheritance, traditional customs usually pass land to sons, on the grounds that daughters eventually move to their husbands’ homes. It is known that some customs require widows to marry a male relative of the deceased spouse.[21]

[11] CEDAW (2002) p.8 [12] CEDAW (2004a) p.3 [13] CEDAW (2009) p.82 [14] CEDAW (2009) p.82 [15] United Nations (2004) p. 118; UN (2008) [16] CEDAW (2009) pp.83-84 [17] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.17 [18] CEDAW (2009) p. 21 [19] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 6.2 [20] World Bank (1999) p. 140 [21] CEDAW (2009) p. 67

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

The 2005 Penal Code establishes as new penalties for rape of between 5 and 20 years imprisonment. Formerly, men could avoid this charge if they married the victim (spousal rape is not considered a crime). The new Code repealed this provision, but fails to invalidate earlier marriages contracted on this basis.[22]

Domestic violence is a criminal offence under the criminal code, with punishments including fines and imprisonment of up to 15 years.[23] Police are also expected to undergo training on domestic violence issues from women’s NGOs or the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The penal code also criminalises sexual harassment (with imprisonment of up to 2 years), but the law is not effectively enforced.[24]

Violence against women is widespread and abuses, including wife beating and spousal rape, are pervasive social problems with wide acceptance. A 2009 WHO study found that 70 % of Ethiopian women suffered physical violence from their husband or partner at some point in their life, and over 50 % had suffered physical violence in the preceding 12 months.[25]  The 2005 DHS found that, when presented with a list of five reasons for which a man might be justified in beating his wife, 81 % of women surveyed agreed with at least one of the reasons.[26]  Thus, even though they have recourse through the police, strong societal norms and lack of access to relevant infrastructure prevent many women from seeking legal redress.[27]  Accurate up-to-date data regarding the number of reported cases of rape and sexual assault are also not available. A report by a national women’s organisation referred to in the US Department of State’s 2010 Human Rights report stated that in 2005, 938 incidents of rape were reported in the capital Addis Ababa, but only 103 offenders were punished: these figures are likely to be much lower than the actual incidence of rape, given societal and family pressure on victims of sexual violence to remain silent, and lack of awareness of the law.[28]

As elsewhere, sexual violence (predominantly against women) was a feature of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the 1990s, and continues to be reported in the Ogadan region.[29] According to Human Rights Watch, ‘systematic’ rape has been a feature of the government’s counter-insurgency strategy in the region since 2007, directed against women suspected of having links to the Ogadan National Liberation Front.[30]

Even though the new Penal Code criminalises female genital mutilation (FGM) by imprisonment of no less than three months or a fine of at least ETB 500 (USD 58), it is estimated that between 70 and 80 % of Ethiopia’s female population is subject to the practice.[31]  Genital infibulation (the closing of the outer lips of the vulva) is also punishable by law, with imprisonment of five to ten years. To date, there have been no criminal prosecutions for practising FGM, although according to various sources, public support among women for the procedure, as well as the overall percentage of women who have experienced FGM, is declining.[32]

Abortion is legal in cases of rape and incest, where the woman’s health is in danger, and in cases of foetal impairment.[33] The contraceptive prevalence rate among married Ethiopian women remains very low. According to a 2011 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 28.6% of married women were currently using contraception as a means of family planning, with 27.3% using a modern method.[34]  Women in Ethiopia do not have the reproductive freedom to make family planning decisions on their own: according to a report published by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), only about one in four women is able to make a decision regarding family planning without the consent of her husband.[35]  The 2011 DHS found that almost 25.3% of women were classified as having an unmet need for family planning services, either to limit the number of children they bore, or to increase the length of time between births.[36]

[22] Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) (2009a) p. 69 [23] US Department of State (2011) [24] US Department of State (2011) [25] World Health Organization (WHO) (2009), Women and Health: Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda, p. 56 [26] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.7.1 [27] US Department of State (2011) [28] US Department of State (2011) [29] Arieff (2009) p.1, 3, 5 [30] Human Rights Watch (2008) [31] World Health Organization (WHO) (2008), cited in ECA (2009a) p. 55; CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.13, found that 74.3 of women surveyed had undergone FGM. [32] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.13; CEDAW (2009) p. 20; US Department of State (2010) [33] United Nations (2011) [34] Central Statistical Agency and ICF Macro (2011) [35] Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2006) pp. 26-27 [36] Central Statistical Agency and ICF Macro (2011)

Son Bias: 

According to the 2011 DHS, in the families surveyed, 23.1% of boys under the age of 2 had had the full range of vaccinations, compared to 25.7% of girls.[37] Rates of malnutrition were also slightly higher for boys.[38]  It appears that there is no evidence of son preference with respect to early childhood care and nutrition. According to the World Economic Forum in 2011, there remains a gender gap in primary and secondary education, indicating that there may be a slight preference towards sons with access to education.[39]

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.97.[40]

There is no evidence to suggest that Ethiopia is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[37] Central Statistical Agency and ICF Macro (2011) [38] Central Statistical Agency and ICF Macro (2011) [39] World Economic Forum (2011) [40] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women’s ownership rights are limited in Ethiopia, although land reforms enacted in March 1997 have improved access to land by stipulating that women have the right to lease land from the government, a right that is given to them in the Federal Constitution.[41]  Ethiopian law presumes joint or communal property as the default regime, and married couples may acquire and title land jointly.[42]  In fact, during a land redistribution exercise carried out in the Amhara Region, almost 130 000 poor rural women became landowners. In some regions Ethiopia is conducting a program to introduce the joint titling of household land to ensure women’s access and use.[43]  Despite these reforms, it is frequently the case that women’s only chance to access land is through marriage. Women who separate from their husbands are likely to lose their houses and property, and when a husband dies, other family members often claim the land over his widow.[44]  The 2005 DHS reports that 20 % of widows reported being dispossessed of their land.[45]  Traditionally, only the head of the household can be a landowner. A 2007 report places the number of female landholders at 18.1 %.[46]  However, Ethiopia reports in its 2009 CEDAW report that 29 % of rural landowners are households headed by women.[47]

Under the new Family Code, previous requirements that husbands should have unique control over common property have been removed. Common property is now to be administered jointly by both spouses.[48]

Ethiopian women have only limited access to bank loans. Public financing for women may be granted to female heads of households who own land; by contrast, married women who wish to obtain loans must first seek permission from their husbands. Due to lack of access to larger amounts of credit, women turn to community-based revolving credit/savings groups and micro-credit enterprises to finance household needs.[49]

[41] Article 35, Sub Section 7 of the Constitution, in ECA (2009b) p.5 [42] Knox, A. et al. (2007) pp.4,7 [43] ECA (2009b) p.5 [44] US Department of State (2010) [45] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.12 [46] JICA (2006) p. 29 [47] CEDAW (2009) p.72; World Bank (1999) p.152 [48] CEDAW (2009) p.35[49] African Development Bank (AfDB) (2004) p. 15; JICA (2006) p. 31 

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Freedom of movement for everyone is restricted in certain parts of Ethiopia, on the pretext of national security concerns.[50] There do not appear to be any legal restrictions specifically on women’s freedom of access to public space; however, some women may face restrictions on a day-to-day basis: of women surveyed in the 2005 DHS, 20.8% reported that their husband had the final say on whether they were able to go and visit family or relatives.[51]  Freedom of speech, assembly and association are all limited in Ethiopia, with much of the media under government control, and a new law introduced in 2009 which severely restricts the activities of NGOs.[52]

Women in Ethiopia have the same rights as men to vote and stand for election to political office.[53] Ethiopia has made recent gains in the level of political participation among women. The %age of women in the Federal Parliament has risen from 7.7 in 2003 to 21.3 as of December 2009.[54]  As of 2009, 13 % of the top position in both the executive and judicial branches were held by women; among higher-level positions below the Ministers and Judges, women held 26.6 %.[55]

Rising female rates of political participation correspond to recent survey data showing an increase in acceptance of women politicians. According to a 2007 World Values Survey, more than 77 % of respondents either disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement, ‘Men make better political leaders than women do.[56]  Similarly, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that while 51 % of respondents thought that men make better political leaders than women, 45 % thought that men and women were equally capable.[57]

Employed women in Ethiopia are entitled to 90 days of paid maternity leave, with their employer covering the entire cost of their benefits, which are 100 % of their wages.[58]  However, women only account for around 30 % of the formal employment sector in Ethiopia, and many work in rural, agricultural settings and are not paid in cash wages.[59]  According to the 2005 DHS, 60 % of employed women received no pay.[60]  While no official statistics exist, these circumstances would indicate that the number of women who receive maternity benefits in Ethiopia is low. 

[50] US Department of State (2011) [51] DHS (2005), Table 16.4 [52] Freedom House (2010) [53] CEDAW (2009) p.15 [54] Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA) & Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) (2003) p. 4;Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010)[55] ECA (2009b) p. 3 [56] World Values Survey (WVS) (2007), Question V61 [57] Pew Research Center (2007), Question Q43 [58] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [59] NEWA, EWLA (2003) p.4 [60] CSO AND ORC MACRO (2006), Table 16.1


With the exception of a short period of Italian occupation (1936-41), Ethiopia has always been an independent country.[1] From 1974 to 1991, the country was ruled by military junta. This period saw civil conflict, repeated famines, and repression.[2] Since then, the country has been relatively stable, although war with neighbouring Eritrea (which became independent from Ethiopia following a referendum in 1993) over border demarcation in the late 1990s saw tens of thousands of people killed.[3] Conflict continues in the Ogadan region in eastern Ethiopia, between government forces and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a largely ethnic Somali insurgent group.[4] Ethiopia is one of Africa’s poorest states. Its economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, which results in severe food shortages when the rains fail.[5] Ethiopia is classed as a low-income country by the World Bank.[6]

Despite recently introduced policy instruments and legislative commitments designed to serve women’s interests and a Constitution[7] that guarantees women the same rights and protections as men, gender gaps in education, economic empowerment and political participation remain.[8]  A vast majority of Ethiopian women, particularly in rural areas, are gravely affected by poverty.  

Ethiopia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981, but has not yet ratified the CEDAW Optional Protocol.[9] The country has signed but not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.[10]

[1] CIA (2011) [2] BBC (n.d.) [3] BBC (n.d.) [4] Arieff (2009) p.5 [5] BBC (n.d.) [6] BBC (n.d.); World Bank (n.d.) [7] World Economic Forum (2011) [8] Article 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, adopted 8 December 1994. [9] United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011) [10] African Union (2010) 


African Development Bank (AfDB) (2004) Ethiopia Multi-Sector Country Gender Profile, AfDB: Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010).

Arrieff, Alexis (2009) ‘Sexual Violence in African Conflicts’, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service.

BBC (n.d.) ‘Ethiopia profile’, BBC News, (accessed 8 November 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2011) The World Factbook: Ethiopia, Washington, DC: CIA, online edition, (accessed 8 November 2011)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 5 March 2012)

Central Statistical Agency and ICF Macro (2011) Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey, 2011, Preliminary Report, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia & Calverton, Maryland.

Central Statistical Office (CSO) and ORC Macro (2006), Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2005, CSO, ORC Macro: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia & Calverton, Maryland.

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2002), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Ethiopia, Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/ETH/4-5, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2004a), Summary Record of the 645th Meeting, CEDAW/C/SR.645, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2004b), Summary Record of the 646th Meeting, CEDAW/C/SR.646, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2009), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Ethiopia, Combined Sixth and Seventh Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/ETH/6-7, CEDAW, New York, NY.

Freedom House (2010) ‘Freedom in the World 2010: Ethiopia’, (accessed 8 November 2011)

Government of Ethiopia (1995) Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,,LEGAL,,LEGISLATION,ETH,,3ae6b5a84,0.html (accessed 8 November 2011)

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Human Rights Watch (2008) ‘Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region’, New York: Human Rights Watch

Knox, A., N. Duvvury, and N. Milici (2007), Connecting Rights to Reality: A Progressive Framework of Core Legal Protections for Women’s Property Rights, International Center for Research on Women, Washington, DC.

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO: Geneva, Switzerland (accessed 1 March 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva,

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2006), Ethiopia: Country Gender Profile, JICA Planning Department, Tokyo.

Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA), Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) (2003), CEDAW Shadow Report, NEWA, EWLA: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

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-              CEDAW: (accessed 8 November 2011)

-              Optional Protocol: (accessed 8 November 2011)

US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.

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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: