Fast facts

Total population: 128,8 million

Internet penetration rate: 19.4 %

State bodies tasked with tackling GBV:Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth’s Affairs (MWCY) | Ministry of Justice | Ethiopian Federal Police | Regional Police/Justice Bureaus | Women Children and Youth Directorate within the Federal Ministry of Health | National Coordinating Body (NCB) | Children and Women Affairs Ombudsman

GBV laws and policies in Ethiopia

  • Legislation:


    The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE Constitution) ensures gender equality across social, legal, economic, and political spheres, affirming that provisions applicable to men also apply to women (Article 7).

    It also protects citizens, including women, from bodily harm and cruel treatment, and guarantees equal protection under the law without discrimination Articles (16, 18(1) and 25, respectively). Article 34 further upholds marital, personal, and family rights, granting equal rights to men and women throughout marriage and divorce and prohibiting forced marriage.

    Article 35 deals specifically with women’s rights. This Article guarantees women’s right to equality with men in marriage, property, employment, and protects women’s rights to maternity leave with full pay. Most importantly, the Article recognises the challenge that HTP poses to the physical and mental wellbeing of women and girls by explicitly stating the elimination of customs, laws and practices that justify HTPs.

    Notably, Article 35 entitles women to affirmative action to remedy past injustices and the historical legacy of inequality and discrimination.

    Article 89 of the Constitution mandates the government to ensure equal participation of women alongside men in all economic and social development initiatives.

    Article 34(5) allows disputes related to personal and family matters to be adjudicated according to religious or customary laws, with consent. However, the inherent power imbalance in marriages and patriarchal belifes often leads to the application of these arbitration methods without genuine consent from women. Consequently, women may find themselves compelled to adhere to decisions that perpetuate patriarchal values.


    The revision of the Family Code Proclamation in 2000 marked a crucial milestone in eliminating the discriminatory provisions of the 1960 Civil Code that allowed marriage at age 15, obligated women to reside at their spouses’ homes, considered the husband as the sole head of the family, required wives to obey their husbands, entitled the husband to protect and oversee the wife’s relations, and guide her conduct.

    By repealing these provisions of the Civil Code, the Revised Family Code introduced measures to ensure the protection of women in the private sphere.  For example, Article 7 establishes the minimum age of marriage at 18, Article 6 makes consent an essential condition of marriage (abolishing betrothal and forced marriage), Article 54 guaranteed women’s equal rights in selecting their family residence, and Article 66 provides equal rights for women to administer common property. Despite the protective measures outlined in the Family Code for women, it contains loopholes that hinder the eradication of early and forced marriage.

    While the Code establishes 18 as the legal marriage age, it grants the Ministry of Justice the authority to make exceptions for up to two years in cases of serious causes, without clearly defining what qualifies as a serious cause. This ambiguity grants discretionary power to the Ministry and potentially enables child marriages as young as 16.


    The Criminal Code criminalises, for example,  several HTPs such as FGM/C (Articles 565), infibulation (Article 566), early marriage (Article 648), abduction (Articles 587-590), and polygamy (Article 650). It also addresses various forms of VAW, including sexual abuse (Articles 620-628), trafficking women (Article 597), prostitution of another for gain (Article 634), physical violence within marriage or in an irregular union (Article 564), and the trafficking in women and minors (Article 635). Despite these important provisions, the Criminal Code has been criticised on a number of fronts for several reasons, including that it inadequately addresses domestic violence, as its scope is confined to “marriage partners or persons cohabiting in an irregular union.”

    Additionally, the Criminal Code fails to criminalise marital rape, defining rape solely in instances where a person compels a woman to submit to sexual intercourse outside of wedlock, thus explicitly excluding rape committed within marriage. It also falls short in effectively addressing HTP like FGM/C, as it does not penalise failure to report FGM/C unless resulting in severe injury or death, fails to protect uncut women and girls from disparaging language or community segregation, and its outdated fines limit punitive effectiveness.


    The Labor Proclamation No.1156/2019, which repealed Proclamation No. 377/2003, is a vital instrument for addressing GBV in the workplace. The proclamation explicitly defines and prohibits sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, granting affected employees the right to terminate contracts without notice, and receive severance payment, and compensation.


    This proclamation defines sexual harassment and guarantees a more favorable working environment for civil servants, particularly women.


    The Overseas Employment Proclamation sets standards for labor migration and increases accountability for private employment agencies, aiming to protect the rights of Ethiopian migrant workers, especially women in domestic work.


    • National Policy on Women


    The National Policy on Women, established in 1993, serves as the primary national policy aiming to institutionalise the political and socio-economic rights of women by integrating gender sensitivity into public policies.

    • Women’s Development and Change Strategy (2017)


    The Women’s Development and Change Strategy is another relevant policy framework for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia. It particularly prioritises the elimination of GBV, focusing on the implementation of programs that protect women from violence and provide necessary services to victims.


    In 2017, Ethiopia adopted the National Child Policy, which calls for the protection of children from all forms of violence.

    • FDRE Criminal Justice Policy


    Another pertinent policy in the fight against GBV is the FDRE Criminal Justice Policy which stresses the need to establish special procedures aimed at preventing, investigating and prosecuting offences against women.

    • Culture Policy


    The 1997 Culture Policy of Ethiopia highlights the importance of efforts aimed at changing prevalent misconceptions about women in the country and abolishing HTPs that adversely affect them.


    In addition to the aforementioned legal reforms, strategy frameworks with an increasingly focus on women and girls have been established, a few notable developments bear mention. In 2013, the government launched its National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children.

    In 2019, a new National Coasted Roadmap was developed with the goal of eliminating child marriage and FGM/C by 2025.

    Furthermore, the Second National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP II) prioritises addressing VAW, offering measures to eliminate GBV and HTPs.

    The Education Sector Development Program (ESDPVV), spanning from 2020/21 – 2024/25 along with the revised Gender Equality and Girls Education Strategy, is aimed at eliminating gender barriers in education.

    Notably, the Ethiopian government’s ten-year development plan “Ten-Years Development Plan: A Pathway to Prosperity (2021 – 2030),” emphasises the crucial goal of establishing an environment where women are completely free from physical and moral abuse, FGM, and early marriage by 2029/30. This objective aims to decrease the rates from 24%, 65%, and 6% (as of 2015/2016) to zero. Additionally, the plan aims to halve the incidence of sexual abuse against women, reducing it from 10% to 5%.

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GBV trends and resources in Ethiopia

GBV in Ethiopia, as is the case elsewhere in the world, is a complex but socially tolerated issue that has its roots in structural inequality. Intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual harassment, assault, and harmful traditional practices (HTP) like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage are prevalent forms of GBV, persisting in both rural and urban settings.

Despite the profound impacts of these violent occurrences, many cases often remain unreported. GBV is considered a ‘silent epidemic’ as victims are hesitant to reveal their experiences of violence due to many barriers, including that it is taboo, fear of stigmatisation, and fear of revenge, among others. Attitudes towards GBV are reflected in several Ethiopian proverbs, which often reinforce harmful gender-based stereotypes such as, “a person who gives birth to a daughter and a person who walks to a devil are alike”, “a girl who learns never goes far” and “women and donkeys love being battered.” The predominance of patriarchy and the perceived subordination of women has result in GBV to be accepted by some communities as a cultural norm, resulting in under-reporting and revictimisation.

Although efforts have been made to promote gender equality in Ethiopia, there remains a prevailing acceptance of male dominance and entitlement over women. This sense of entitlement often stems from traditional and religious beliefs, as well as from outdated laws, some of which have been repealed in recent decades. The prevailing power systems in both private and public domains have molded and impacted cultural norms to favour men while placing women at a disadvantage. In fact, many traditional and religious norms within Ethiopian society endorse GBV, often resulting in a culture of non-intervention or complicit silence. An illustrative example is the prevailing cultural practice of abducting and subsequently raping girls for marriage, notably observed in various regions of the country, including Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.

Additionally, entrenched traditional and religious ideals centered around female purity and decency serve as excuses for supporting practices such as child marriage, FGM/C and forced virginity tests, with prevalence in rural Ethiopian communities. According to reports, Ethiopia is often cited among countries with the highest number of women affected by FGM/C. Other cultural practices related to marriage, particularly the widespread customs of dowry and bride price observed in nearly all regions of the country, play a substantial role in escalating instances of child and forced marriages.

Poverty also constitutes a significant catalyst for GBV in Ethiopia, notably evident in the occurrence of child marriages wherein the exploitation of girls as a means of financial sustenance prevails.  Women facing economic hardship are also at a higher risk of experiencing assault and abuse. For instance, confronted with economic destitution, many women are compelled to engage in sex work, which increases their vulnerability to a spectrum of verbal, physical, and sexual violence. In a study conducted in 2020, findings revealed that out of 6,085 surveyed female sex workers in Ethiopia, 1,354 of them reported experiencing incidents of physical violence, and 771 individuals disclosed incidents of sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the survey. Domestic workers also face an increased vulnerability to GBV. A meta-analysis conducted in 2022 revealed that an estimated average of approximately 22.54% of domestic workers have experienced physical violence during their lifetimes. The fact that domestic work is one of the least protected sectors under Ethiopia’s labour law further exacerbates matters.

The adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were significantly compounded by the outbreak of armed conflict in the northern part of Ethiopia in November 2020. The conflict, which started in the Tigray region and extended to Amhara and Afar Regions, unleashed a wave of sexual violence that has particularly affected women and girls, perpetrated by both the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Federal Defence Force. A joint investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) documented numerous instances of sexual violence against women and girls, including sexual abuse, and the penetration of the vagina with foreign objects. The joint report further unveiled that women and girls associated with male family members in the Tigray forces experienced various forms of violence, encompassing detention, physical, and verbal abuse.

The rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals in Ethiopia are virtually non-existent, as the country criminalises same-sex relations. Article 629 of the Criminal Code categorises engaging in a same-sex act or any other indecent act with a person of the same sex as punishable by simple imprisonment, with the maximum sentence potentially extending up to thirteen years in aggravated circumstances. This has left the LGBTQIA+ community without legal avenues to seek justice for the violations they face based on their sexual orientation.

The aforementioned overview highlights the importance of tackling GBV in Ethiopia, not just by addressing its immediate consequence, but also by breaking down the cultural and social obstacles that catalyse it and hinder survivors from seeking justice.

According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS), 23% of women aged between 15 and 49 years old have encountered physical violence, while 10% have faced sexual violence. IPV is particularly pronounced with  34% of women aged between 15 to 49 years old who have ever been married experienced domestic violence. Within this group, 24% reported incidents of physical and emotional violence, while 10% reported instances of sexual violence.  Marital rape is also a prevalent form of GBV. Despite this, the 2005 Criminal Code excludes marital rape from punishable offenses.

The same report indicates that 63% of women agree that domestic abuse is justifiable in circumstances such as the burning of food, when a wife argues with her husband. when a wife “goes out” without informing her husband, child neglect, or the refusal of sexual advances.

HTPs such as FGM/C and child marriage are still widely practiced and remain a major manifestation of GBV throughout the country.  Social norms, which perceive girls’ premarital sexuality and pregnancy as shameful and unacceptable, serve as the driving force behind this conduct in many regions. Parents, influenced by the traditional apprehension of their daughters’ emerging sexuality, are often inclined to arrange child marriages either before or shortly after puberty to shield their daughters from stigmatisation. Moreover, the stigma attached to unmarried girls, particularly prevalent in rural settings, further compels these girls to opt for child marriage as a means to evade being labeled as “spinsters”. The 2012 EDHS report reveals that 40% of women in their early twenties were married before the age of 18, and 6% of girls aged 15 to 19 years old married before reaching the age of 15. Similarly, Girls Not Brides reported that 40% of girls in Ethiopia are wedded before the age of 18, with 14% entering marriage before their 15th birthday. While the 2012 EDHS report highlights that the Amhara region records the highest rates of child marriage in Ethiopia at 45%, a recent study conducted by UNICEF has uncovered a decline in early marriage in Amhara Region. The study indicates that the majority of marriages in the Amhara Region, especially in the areas examined, are primarily ceremonial. Similarly, the same report points out that Jikawo woreda in the Gambella region exhibits the highest rate of child marriage in Ethiopia, with a significant number of girls marrying before the age of 15 due to a perceived earlier onset of puberty driven by improved nutrition in the region.

Drawing parallels with child marriage, FGM/C stands out as another widespread manifestation of GBV confronting Ethiopian women. FGM/C Research Initiative reported that FGM/C is more widespread among women between the ages of 15 to 49 years old in the eastern part of Ethiopia, with the highest prevalence recorded in Somali at 98.5%, followed by Afar at 98.4%. In contrast, Tigray reports the lowest prevalence at 24%. In recent years, Ethiopia has witnessed a notable downward trend in the prevalence of FGM/C. Over the span of 16 years, the rates have significantly decreased from 80% in the 2000 EDHS to 74% in 2005, and a further decline to 65% in 2016. Despite this positive trajectory, Ethiopia remains home to an alarming 25 million circumcised women and girls, constituting the largest absolute number in Eastern and Southern Africa.


As is the case in many other countries, technology in Ethiopia is used to escalate abusive and controlling behaviours that women have long confronted in the offline space. Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and more recently TikTok have become the most widely used social networking platforms throughout the country, yet these platforms have also evolved into hotspots for cyberbullying, deep faking, and the sharing of non-consensual intimate images. Despite these, there is currently no specific mechanism in place to address OGBV, leading to a lack of support for survivors and those at risk. The absence of attention towards OGBV and its detrimental effects on women and girls has resulted in rare reporting of incidents and limited studies.

In November 2021, the government established the Inter-ministerial Taskforce on Accountability and Redress (IMTF), which formed the Sexual and Gender-based Violations Committee to investigate instances of sexual violence during the conflict. The IMTF findings revealed 2,212 cases of survivors of sexual violence in the Amhara and Afar regional states.

Despite the government’s reports of launching investigations and securing convictions for some perpetrators, concerns persist regarding the lack of transparency in investigations and trials, as well as the government’s response to addressing widespread abuses, particularly those involving EDF.

Additionally, Ethiopia’s Seventh to Tenth Periodic Country Reports (2015-2023) to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights fail to outline concrete measures taken to address reported conflict-related sexual violence, instead relying on the transitional justice policy initiated by the government. Without comprehensive measures to provide justice for survivors of sexual violence during the two-year conflict in the Northern Ethiopia conflict, the cycle of violence, injustice and impunity may continue, extending to the ongoing conflict in the Amhara region.

* This factsheet was prepared with the assistance of Meron Eshetu.

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