“Little by little, the egg begins to walk”

Attention to gender equality remains an important development goal highlighted in the United Nations MDGs. Closing gender gaps has been seen to contribute to women’s empowerment, as well as to improving productivity and increasing efficiency in general, improved outcomes for the next generation, and more representative decision making. 

Motivations for closing the gender gap are not mutually exclusive; rather, they reinforce each other, say Neha Kumar and Agnes Quisumbing (IFPRI) in their paper “Policy reform toward gender equality in Ethiopia: Little by little the egg begins to walk” recently published by World Development. The linkages between women’s empowerment and increased productivity and food security have been emphasized in the analysis of the newly developed Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index. Closing the gender gap in assets—allowing women to own and control productive assets—both increases women’s productivity and increases their self-esteem.

A woman who is empowered to make decisions regarding what to plant and what (and how many) inputs to apply on her plot is likely to be more productive in agriculture. Similarly, an empowered woman is likely to be better able to ensure her children’s health and nutrition because she is able to take care of her own physical and mental well-being.

Could different policy reforms have reinforcing impacts on gender equality?

Drawing on Douglass North’s theory of institutional change (1990), the authors of this paper use data from rural Ethiopia to show how the changes in the Family Code implemented in 2000 and the community-based land registration, undertaken since 2003 may have created conditions for self-reinforcing reforms that favor gender equity.

Authors find that Ethiopia’s land registration process increased tenure security among women, and, if properly implemented, has the potential for far-reaching impacts. Still, there are gender gaps in awareness about the process. In particular, male-headed households are, on average, more likely to have heard about the land registration process, attended meetings, and received some written material about the process.

Although the reform of Family Code occurred a few years before the beginning of the land reform, authors find that awareness about the land registration process is positively correlated with the shift in perceptions toward equal division of land and livestock upon divorce. The same positive effect is observed in relation to the presence of female members in the country’s Land Administration Committee (LAC).

Kes be kes enqullal be-egrwa tihedalech

Little by little, the egg begins to walk (Ethiopian saying)

Despite the long history of gender discrimination in property rights in Ethiopia, these reforms, and recent increased attention to women in agricultural development programs, illustrate that perhaps, little by little, progress is being made—or, to quote an Ethiopian saying, the egg is beginning to walk. While this example is obviously rooted in the Ethiopian context, it raises the possibility that similar reform efforts may be complementary in other countries as well. Given the potential gains derived from eliminating the gender gap in access to assets and resources, exploiting complementarities in the reform process may be an untapped opportunity to accelerate progress in closing the gender gap worldwide.

Full citation: Kumar, Neha and Quisumbing, Agnes R. 2015. Policy reform toward gender equality in Ethiopia: Little by little the egg begins to walk. World Development 67(March 2015): 406-423. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2014.10.029

This research was supported by the Swiss Development Corporation and the International Food Policy Research Institute Strategic Initiative on Gender and Assets, with additional support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets. 

Learn more about PIM's work on gender and property rights.  

Also read this earlier story by Marcia McNeil published on the IFPRI Blog: "Building on gender policy reforms in Ethiopia"

Featured image: USAID Flickr photostream. Photo credit: Links Media

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