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Family Law (4)

Yes. Here are two examples, but there are many more. Mozambique’s Family law (No 10/2004), states that immovable property, whether belonging to each spouse individually or as common property, may only be transferred to others with the express permission of both spouses. Section 40 of the Uganda Land Act states that spouses have the right to use, access and live on their husband’s land and they may withhold their consent to stop land transactions.

In my opinion, laws against polygamy are ineffective at best and harmful to women at worst. Even though women very often do not want their husbands to take a second wife, and a second wife (and children) can stretch already limited resources, making polygamy illegal does not stop polygamy. But, if polygamy is illegal, subsequent marriages will be illegal and unregistered, and subsequent wives will have no legal rights to their husband’s income or assets. Second wives are often women who are vulnerable because they are young and have little or no income or choice about who they marry. I do not know who the “we” refers to in your question, but I think thoroughly understanding the issues related to polygamy for all women would be a critical first step. Where does polygamy occur? Under what conditions does polygamy occur? What is the attitude toward it in rural areas? Urban areas? What is the current law? What issues does the current law raise for first and second or subsequent wives? Who wants to change the law and why? What could the unintended consequences be? If polygamy, which was legal, is outlawed, the law should be very careful not to apply to current polygamous marriages—should not apply retroactively because that could be very harmful to women and children already in a polygamous family.

Research indicates that when women are empowered through having secure rights to land, their agricultural productivity improves; they are more included in household decision-making, which has a positive impact on their families; and their income may improve. Here are some examples from Africa and beyond.

Agricultural yields and investment:

  • In Rwanda, land titling boosted land investment among male-headed households by 10% and for female-headed households by nearly twice as much (Ali, et al., 2014).
  • Women’s concern over loss of land reduces their investments in land even when their husbands are alive. In Zambia, secure inheritance rights for widows are associated with higher land investment by married couples, including fertilizer application, fallowing, and use of labor-intensive tillage practices meant to reduce erosion and run-off. Investment is highest when the widow inherits, lower when someone in her family inherits, and lowest when the land reverts to the chief or another family member (Dillon & Voena, 2017).


Female farmers are largely excluded from modern contract-farming arrangements because they lack secure control over land, labor, and other resources required to guarantee a reliable flow of produce (FAO-SOFA Team & Doss, 2011; Croppenstadt, Goldstein, & Rosas, 2013).

Secure land rights are important for the well-being of families, whether a woman is head of her household or lives in a household headed by a man (Smith, Ramakrishnan, Ndiaye, & Martorell, 2003). Households where women have rights to land are likely to spend a larger portion of household income on food (Menon, ven der Meulen Rodgers, & Nguyen, 2014); an increase in female landholdings is associated with increases in household food expenditure and levels of child education (Katz & Chamorro, 2002); and children of mothers who own land are less likely to be severely underweight because women have control over household decisions (Allendorf, 2007).

  • In Tanzania, women who reported having strong property and inheritance rights were more likely to be employed outside of the home, more likely to be self-employed, and more likely to have higher gross earnings. Moreover, women in communities with stronger property and inheritance rights for women have greater individual savings (Peterman, 2011). A study in Ethiopia also found that when the larger community of women has land rights, individual women’s rights are improved (Holden & Bezu, 2014).
  • In Ethiopia, in the event of a no-fault divorce, women who brought in some land to the marriage expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of a divorce than those who did not bring land into the marriage, and women who individually own more livestock and hold user rights on a larger share of the household’s land expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of divorce than those with no livestock or a smaller share of household land. In addition, women who bring more assets into the household, either at the time of marriage or through inheritance, have more say in farming decisions (Fafchamps & Quisumbing, 2002).

Labor and Income:

  • In Rwanda, a study by Ali (2017) shows  higher incomes for both men and women, a drop in farm labor, and women’s shift toward self- and wage-employment.

How do we achieve that?

This is a big question with many moving parts. The critical things are to: (1) understand the context, including the law, customs of different groups, the land tenure systems, the political situation, and what women want to focus on—what are the biggest constraints women face (for example, widows lose rights to their land); and (2) understand which land rights you want to secure or improve—the right to use, the right to benefit from, the right to manage/make decisions—and what would make them more secure (longer term, more enforcable, not changed by marital status, etc.).

Ali, D. A., Deininger, K., & Goldstein, M. (2014). Environmental and gender impacts of land tenure regularization in Africa: pilot evidence from Rwanda. Journal of Development Economics, 110, 262-275.

Allendorf, K. (2007). Do women’s land rights promote empowerment and child health in Nepal? World Development, 35(11), 1975-1988.

Dillon, B., & Voena, A. (2017, January). Inheritance Customs and Agricultural Investment.

Croppenstadt, A., Goldstein, M. , & Rosas, N. (2013). Gender and Agriculture, Inefficiencies, Segregation, and Low Productivity Traps. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Development Economics Vice Presidency, Partnerships, Capacity Building Unit.

Fafchamps, M., & Quisumbing, A. (2002). Control and Ownership Over Assets Within Rural Ethiopian Households. Journal of Development Studies, 38(6).

FAO-SOFA Team, & Doss, C. (2011). The Role of Women and Agriculture. Rome: FAO.

Holden, S., & Bezu, S. (2014). Joint Land Certification, Gendered Preferences, and Land-related Decisions: Are Wives Getting More Involved?”. As, Norway: Centre for Land Tenure Studies/School of Economics and Business Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Katz, E., & Chamorro, J. (2002). Gender, land rights, and the household economy in rural Nicaragua and Honduras. Madison, WI: USAID/BASIS CRSP.

Menon, N., ven der Meulen Rodgers, Y., & Nguyen, H. (2014). Women’s Land Rights and Children’s Human Capital in Vietnam. World Development, 54, 18-31.

Peterman, A. (2011). Women’s Property Rights and Gendered Policies: Implications for Women’s Long-term Welfare in Rural Tanzania. Journal of Development Studies, 47(1).

Smith, L., Ramakrishnan, U., Ndiaye, A., & Martorell, R. (2003). The Importance of Women’s Status for Child Nutrition in Developing Countries. IFPRI.

When did Tigray, SNNP, and Oromiya implemented their regional family codes and which components of these laws differ from the Federal Revised Family Code of 2000 (Proclamation No. 213/2000)? Your library includes a link to the English version of Amhara’s Family Code of 2003 (Proclamation No. 79/2003), but I cannot find English versions for the other regions. According to Hallward-Driemeier and Gajigo, Amhara, Oromiya, and Tigray updated their family codes between 2000 and 2005 and SNNP did so between 2005 and 2011. I would like to know the precise years in which these regions, and especially SNNP, implemented their family codes.

I do not know of copies of the Revised Family Law in English for any state except Amhara.
Tigray passed its own Family Code in 1998, which served as a model for the Federal Code. The Tigray Region Family Code was revised in 2007.
The Oromia Regional State Family Code, Proc. No. 83/2004 passed in 2004.
The SNNP Family Code was passed in 2004, so implementation would have started in 2005. The Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State’s Family Code Proc. No. 75/2004, Debub Negarit Gazetta, 9th Year, Extraordinary Issue No. 1 passed in 2004. I was unable to find it in English, but here’s a comparison of the Federal Family Code and the SNNPR Family Code.

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