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Leaving Two Thirds Out of Development: Female Headed Households and Common Property Resources in the Highlands of Tigray, Ethiopia

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P. Howard
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Periodic drought, unsustainable livestock populations, land tenure insecurities, land degradation, a prolonged and intense civil war and fragmentation of farms have had severe impacts on the population of the Ethiopian highlands. Increasingly young men have found it harder to obtain land to establish their own farms and homesteads. Contributions from their own and their wives' parents are diminishing, as there are many heirs, less land available, and because traditional land tenure systems have been weakened. In response, men are choosing to to divorce their wives and marry other women with more assets. Because of customary and statutory laws they are able to retain the majority of marital assets in the process. Divorced women are often left as female-household heads to shoulder responsibilities for their families without significant productive labour available. The paper argues that programmes oriented toward supporting the livelihoods of the poor and environmental conservation must prioritise other natural resources in addition to land, such as fuelwood and medicinal and edible plants. Other points include the recommendation that traditional land tenure systems be bolstered to improve women's access to household agricultural assets upon divorce or death of male household heads. Opportunities for women for off-farm income-generation should also be enhanced.

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