Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides for penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The government did not fully enforce the law, partially due to widespread underreporting. Recent statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished were not available.
Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws was inconsistent.
Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. Depending on the severity of damage inflicted, legal penalties range from small fines to imprisonment for up to 15 years.
Although women had recourse to police and the courts, societal norms and limited infrastructure prevented many women from seeking legal redress, particularly in rural areas. The government prosecuted offenders on a limited scale.
Domestic violence and rape cases often were delayed significantly and given low priority. In the context of gender-based violence, significant gender gaps in the justice system remained, due to poor documentation and inadequate investigation. Gender-based violence against women and girls was underreported due to cultural acceptance, shame, fear of reprisal, or a victim’s ignorance of legal protections.
“Child friendly” benches hear cases involving violence against children and women. Police officers were required to receive domestic violence training from domestic NGOs and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs on the EHRC.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but the government did not actively enforce this prohibition or punish those who practiced it. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 74 percent of women and girls had undergone FGM/C. The government strategy for combatting this practice focused on community education rather than punitive measures, which had been seen to drive the practice underground in other countries.
A majority of girls had undergone some form of FGM/C, although the results of the 2009 Population Council survey suggest its prevalence declined. Sixty-six percent of female respondents ages 21 to 24 reported undergoing FGM/C, compared with 56 percent of those ages 15 to 17. Of the seven regions surveyed, the study found the rates to be highest in Afar (90 percent), Oromia (77 percent), and the SNNPR (75 percent). The FGM/C prevalence rate was particularly high among ethnic Somalis in the country.
FGM/C was much less common in urban areas, where 15 percent of the population lived.
The age at which FGM/C is performed depends on the ethnic group, type of FGM/C adopted, and the region. More than 52 percent of girls who undergo the procedure do so before age one. In the north FGM/C tends to be performed immediately after birth, whereas in the south, where FGM/C is more closely associated with marriage, it is performed later. Girls typically experienced clitoridectomies seven days after birth (consisting of an excision of the clitoris, often with partial labial excision) and infibulation (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) at the onset of puberty. The penal code criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy, with imprisonment of at least three months or a fine of at least 500 birr ($24). Infibulation of the genitals is punishable with imprisonment of five to 10 years. No criminal charges, however, have ever been brought for FGM/C. The government’s strategy was to discourage the practice through education in public schools, the Health Extension Program, and broader mass media campaigns rather than to prosecute offenders. International bilateral donors and private organizations were active in community education efforts to reduce the prevalence of FGM/C, following the government’s lead of sensitization rather than legal enforcement.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The most prevalent harmful traditional practices other than FGM/C included uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, milk tooth extraction, early marriage, and marriage by abduction.
Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of marriage by abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes penalties of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce harassment laws.
Reproductive Rights: Individuals and couples have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. A 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found a modern contraceptive prevalence rate of 40 percent nationwide among married women, up from 27 percent three years previously. The DHS also showed delivery with a skilled birth attendant had risen from 10 to 16 percent. Modeling completed by the government with support from the Gates Foundation and UN agencies found the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth had dropped from an estimated 676 deaths per 100,000 live births to an estimated 420 deaths per 100,000 live births. Abortion is illegal but with numerous exceptions. The incidence of illegal, unsafe abortions had declined since legislation changed, which accounted in part for the drop in maternal mortality. All maternal and child health services were provided free of charge in the public sector; however, challenges persisted in accessing quality services in more remote areas of the country due to transportation problems.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women was a problem and was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 85 percent of the population lived. The law contains discriminatory regulations, such as the recognition of the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children more than five years old. Courts generally did not consider domestic violence by itself a justification for granting a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years a marriage existed, the number of children raised, and joint property, the law entitled women to only three months’ financial support if a relationship ended. There was limited legal recognition of common-law marriage. A common-law husband had no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family, and consequently women and children sometimes faced abandonment. Traditional courts continued to apply customary law in economic and social relationships.
According to the constitution, all land belongs to the government. Both men and women have land-use rights, which they may pass on as an inheritance. Land law varies among regions. All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property they acquired during marriage.
In urban areas women had fewer employment opportunities than men did, and the jobs available did not generally provide equal pay for equal work. Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was further limited by their generally lower level of education and training, and by traditional attitudes.