Fast facts

Total population: 19.6 million

Internet penetration rate: 3.45 million

State bodies tasked with tackling GBV: Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare | Ministry of Justice | Ministry of Civil Education and National Unity | Ministry of Education | Ministry of Youth and Sport

GBV laws and policies in Malawi


Under the Constitution, “women have the right to full and equal protection by the law, and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender and marital status. “It also contains provisions affirming the rights to liberty, human dignity and personal freedom, equality, and privacy. Following a Constitutional Amendment in 2017, marriage under the age of 18 was outlawed. This has been reinforced in the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.

This Act proscribes sexual harassment and harmful practices in various forms, including sexual harassment in the workplace. ‘Harmful practice’ is described as any social, cultural, or religious practice which undermines the dignity, health, or liberty of any person on account of their sex/gender/marital status; or results in psychical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm. Moreover, the Act places a duty on the Human Rights Commission to enforce the Act.

This Act describes the procedure for obtaining a protection order, occupation order, or tenancy order. It applies to a wide array of persons, including dependants, parents, or siblings of either the applicant or respondent, as well as service providers who have been approved by the Minister of Gender. Moreover, the Act includes a provision on the duty of police officers to assist victims and survivors.

The purpose of this Act is to prohibit harmful practices against children, including forced child marriage, to eliminate child labour, and provide guidance on the general protection of children.


This Act criminalises acts such as hacking, unlawful interception of computer data, and unlawful interference with data. It has been critiqued for its skeletal and imprecise requirements in comparison with international standards.

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GBV trends and resources in Malawi

Over the years, the Malawian Government has adopted several policies and legal frameworks to address gender-based violence issues, for example, the National Gender Policy and National Action Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Malawi (2014-2020) (NPA), the 2013 Gender Equality Act and the Domestic Violence Act.Despite these measures, the country ranks 145th (out of 188 positions) on the Gender Inequality Index.

It is estimated that 34% of women in Malawi have experienced physical or sexual violence and that 1 in 5 girls are sexually abused before they turn 18. Recent media reporting illustrates the concerning levels of sexual violence against children. Child and forced marriages remain a priority concern in Malawi, with an estimated 9% of girls in Malawi being married by the age of 15 while 46% are married by the age of 18, placing Malawi 11th country globally in terms of cases of child and forced marriage. Gender and sexual minorities are said to experience violence and discrimination in various aspects of their daily lives, with studies indicating high levels of sexual violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With regard to COVID-19, following former President Peter Mutharika’s announcement of a lockdown, human rights group Malawi Human Rights Defends Coalition (HRDC) instituted a legal challenge against the lockdown measures for their failure to protect indigent persons. Following the High Court’s ruling in favour of HRDC, the lockdown was suspended with the first set of lockdown measures only having been implemented in January 2021.

A report by Titheste Nkhanza further explores the ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated GBV in Malawi. Some key-take aways include the following:

  • sexual and reproductive health-workers were relocated to dealing with COVID-19-related cases;
  • there was reduced capacity in the courts to deal with criminal cases;
  • travel restrictions had a notable impact, particularly on women with disabilities and those in rural areas;
  • there was limited access to information as communal spaces and response centres closed during this time.

On OBGV, a study conducted by Donald Malanaga reveals that the prevailing types of cyber-harms experienced by women in Malawi include hacking, gender trolling, the use of fake accounts, doxing, and communications threats. According to participants, perpetrators commonly had personal or institutional (i.e. collegial) relationships with the women targeted. Besides Malanga’s research, evidence related to OGBV in Malawi is scarce, but similar to other African states, the increase in online harms is something to continue monitoring.

In November 2020, the United Nations Women Representative, Clara Anyangwe, noted her concern about Malawi’s GBV-fighting strategies and that the country could not achieve some of its Sustainable Development Goals. She reported that between January and October 2020, 822 women and girls had been r*ped.

As of October 2021, the Police Victim Supports Unit reported a 5.6% decline in GBV in the first half of 2021.

Following the inauguration of President Lazarus Chakwera in June 2020, he acknowledged the difficulties occasioned by movement restrictions under COVID-19 and announced plans to impose harsher penalties on GBV offenders. These plans include the amendment of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, as well as increased education on human rights in schools.

In June 2020, the Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Development, Patricia Kaliati, discussed the Ministry’s introduction of educational radio programmes on GBV.

Further, in September 2020 the Ministry published a Performance Contract outlining Malawi’s plans to promote gender equality and service delivery to vulnerable groups in particular. The contract identifies ten areas of reform. The most relevant for GBV purposes are as follows:

  • improving skills in managing gender-based violence by duty-bearers through male engagement;
  • operationalising existing gender-related laws;
  • enabling the leadership and strategic implementation of child participation; and
  • improving regulation of the social work practice in Malawi.

As Malawi prepared for 16 Days of Activism in 2021, a workshop was jointly organised by the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, and the NGO Gender-Coordination Network to promote GBV awareness amongst media practitioners.

Women Lawyers Association Malawi:

Centre for Social Concern and Development:

Purple Innovation for Women and Girls

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