This paper examines gender differences in livelihood opportunities among refugee and host community households in Ethiopia. The analysis draws on data from the Ethiopia Skills Profile Survey 2017 (SPS 2017), which surveyed refugees in camps and surrounding host communities in the main refugee hosting regions of Tigray-Afar (Eritrean refugees), Gambella (South Sudanese refugees), Benishangul-Gumuz (Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees), and Somali (Somali refugees). The sample covered 5,317 households including 3,627 refugee households (837 South Sudanese, 871 Somalis, 893 Eritreans, and 1016 Sudanese) and 1,690 host households. Household’s livelihood activities are grouped into four categories: (a) wage employment; (b) self-employment; (c) participation in family farm activities; and (d) participation in family businesses.
Descriptive statistics reveal both similarities and differences across refugee groups, and between refugees and host communities. There are more adult women than men in each of the refugee groups (except the Sudanese refugee population) and most refugees are children. Host communities have a higher proportion of adults than each of the four refugee groups, and all refugee groups (except Eritreans) have higher proportions of children than host communities. More than 90 percent of South Sudanese refugee households are headed by women (only 6 percent of South Sudanese refugees are adult men), whereas the majority of Eritrean, Somali, and Sudanese refugee households are headed by men. And, the Eritrean refugee population has more working-age men and a higher proportion of adults than other refugee groups.
Main findings of empirical analysis at the household level:
- Adults in female-headed households are less likely than adults in male-headed households to participate in the labor market. Among refugees, female-headed households are 7.5 percentage points less likely to participate in the labor market compared to male-headed households. Among hosts, female-headed households are 3.1 percentage points less likely to participate in the labor market compared to male-headed households.
- Educational attainment, access to land, the number of young children in the household, and remittances influence the likelihood that a household participates in the labor market. Among refugee households, all levels of educational attainment (primary, secondary, and tertiary) increase the likelihood of employment, however among host households, only tertiary education affects the likelihood of employment. Among host households, access to land increases the likelihood of female-headed households’ participation in employment by 16 percentage points. Among refugee households, the number of young children below age six reduces the likelihood of employment for female-headed households but not male-headed households. Receiving remittances significantly reduces the probability of employment across the board—men and women, refugees and hosts.
- Gender gaps in employment vary across refugee groups, reflecting differences in livelihood opportunities across hosting regions.
- Refugees are significantly less likely to be employed than individuals in host community households. Refugees in Benishangul-Gumuz region (Sudanese and South-Sudanese refugees) are 65 percentage points less likely to be in employment compared to their hosts. Somali and Eritrean refugees are 22 and 35 percentage points less likely to be in employment compared to their hosts.
- There are large differences in employment rates between female refugees and female hosts, and between male refugees and male hosts. Overall, female refugees are 24 percentage points less likely to be in employment compared to female hosts, with the largest differences found in the Benishangul-Gumuz region (41 percentage points). There are even larger differences in employment rates between male refugees and male hosts (35 percentage points overall, ranging from 19 percentage points in the Somali region, and 29 percentage points in Tigray and Afar region, to 46 percentage points in Benishangul-Gumuz region).
- Overall, Somali refugees appear to have better employment opportunities than other refugee groups in Ethiopia, most likely reflecting the shared language and culture with host communities in the Somali region.
- Disaggregated results by type of livelihood activity suggest that self-employment and agricultural employment are driving the observed differences in employment outcomes between refugees and hosts, reflecting the limited availability of paid employment opportunities in refugee-hosting regions. There is no statistically significant difference in participation in wage employment between refugee and host households across regions, except among male Eritrean refugees, who are less likely to participate in wage employment compared to their hosts. There are, however, significant differences between refugee and host households in participation in self-employment, household farm activities, and family businesses; several refugee groups are less likely to participate in these activities compared to hosts. Among women, there are significant differences in Benishangul-Gumuz region where female refugees are less likely to participate in self-employment and/or farm activities compared to female hosts, reflecting refugees’ lack of access to agricultural land.
Main findings of empirical analysis at the individual level echo the findings at the household level:
- Women (both refugee and host) are less likely to participate in wage employment compared to men. Among refugees, women are 15 percentage points less likely to participate in wage employment compared to men. Among hosts, women are 9 percentage points less likely to participate in wage employment compared to men.
- Education increases the likelihood of wage employment for both women and men, both among hosts and refugees. While secondary and tertiary education are strongly associated with female employment, tertiary education has a large and strong effect on male employment.
- Displacement duration significantly increases the likelihood of employment, with women who are displaced for at least three years more likely to participate in wage employment compared to those displaced for less than three years. In contrast, among men, duration only plays a role for those who are displaced for more than six years.
- Lack of physical safety—measured as feeling moderately or very unsafe when alone at home or walking around during the day or after dark—significantly reduces wage employment for women (but not men) in the host community; interestingly there is no significant effect on refugees.
- Household characteristics influence female participation in wage employment. Among refugees, having a female household head increases female participation in wage employment and the presence of young children in the household reduces female participation in wage employment. Among hosts, access to agricultural land reduces female participation in wage employment (and increases female participation in family farm activities), but has no effect for female refugees.
- Somali refugees have relatively better access to employment opportunities compared to other refugee groups, especially refugees from South Sudan and Sudan. Somali women and men are 4 and 5 percentage points more likely to be employed compared to Eritrean women and men, respectively. In contrast, Sudanese men (12 percentage points) and Sudanese men (4 percentage points) are less likely to be employed compared to Eritrean men.
The author argues that policy responses are needed to increase the economic inclusion of refugees through joint refugee-host cooperatives, investment in agriculture and livestock, and employment creation, as there are limited livelihood opportunities in the refugee-hosting regions, and that livelihood support activities should be tailored to the specific challenges faced by refugee and host women. Several other policy responses are recommended including expanding access to education, especially for young refugees, expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services, and expanding childcare services.