Protecting land rights

parcels have been restored to 1,797 rightful landholders


Women and vulnerable groups face a myriad of barriers to protecting their land rights. These stem from interrelated factors such as cultural norms and perceptions, illiteracy, lack of awareness of their rights, and weak standing in power dynamics with elites who undermine their access to and control of their land. As a result, they are at risk of becoming targets for fraud, discrimination, deception – even violence – in the process of claiming their land rights, which can be violated in the following ways.

Violation Frequently Affected
Border encroachment
Neighbours push boundaries and farm on adjacent land, then try to register the encroached areas as their own.
Female-headed households, elderly
Land takeover
A relative or guardian takes control of land, often while serving as caretaker for the landholder, then attempts to register the land as their own.
Orphaned children, elderly, female-headed households
Manipulating rental and sharecropping agreements
Informal, verbal rental or sharecropping agreements are used as entry points to gain access and make claims to land.
Elderly, destitute households
Illegal transfer of land as a “gift” or sale
A household head may give or sell land to a specific family member to ensure that others cannot claim or inherit it.
Women in male-headed households
Denial of inheritance
Traditionally, female children do not inherit land, in part because it is customary for girls to move in with their husbands’ families upon marriage.
Girls and widows
Denial of share of land
Non-favoured wives in polygamous marriages may be excluded from signing the title certificate, in part because polygamy is not legally recognised.
Women in polygamous households, widows

Ensuring land tenure rights for all

LIFT aims to focus on addressing the barriers women and vulnerable groups face in ensuring their land rights are secure. It is undertaking the following initiatives to ensure that no one is left behind and that the gender gap and levels of vulnerability among different social and economic groups are reduced.

Social development officer initiative

To ensure women and vulnerable groups can overcome the barriers and challenges they face in securing their land rights during the SLLC process, LIFT established the specific role of social development officer within each woreda undergoing SLLC. Their role is to ensure the participation of women and vulnerable groups in the SLLC process, and to ensure that LIFT’s procedures are inclusive and are followed correctly. This includes:

  • Delivering sensitisation training to make LIFT’s stakeholders aware of the needs and additional support that women and vulnerable groups require during the demarcation process.
  • Conducting community mapping of landholders who are at risk of losing their land tenure security, to ensure that the field teams can provide additional support to individuals during demarcation.
  • Organising women-only public meetings to ensure that women are aware of LIFT and engaged in the SLLC process.
  • Ensuring that if a land parcel is disputed, then this is directed to the formal dispute resolution processes and that the relevant institutions resolve the situation.


LIFT recognises that although SLLC is a key step towards ensuring that the land rights of women and vulnerable groups are maintained, it also important that the policy and regulatory environment, as well as policy implementation, maintain the land rights of women and vulnerable groups. To this end LIFT is undertaking research to inform policy in the following areas:

  • The impact of Social Development Officers on inclusion of women and vulnerable groups in SLLC.
  • The legal framework for registering polygamous households to ensure that the land rights of polygamous wives are maintained.
  • The constraints vulnerable groups face in accessing legal assistance during land disputes.
  • The potential challenges of ensuring the land tenure rights of internally displaced people through SLLC and mitigation measures.


As a result of these measures, nearly 90% of land certificates in Ethiopia now have a woman named as a joint or individual landholder. Women and vulnerable groups are more frequently inheriting land titles and more women in polygamous households now have recognised land rights. Some women and marginalised individuals are bringing their land dispute cases to local officials, the police and the courts, demonstrating their sense of agency and desire to seek justice.