ISHR report on CEDAW's examination of Malawi, 22 January 2010
Monday, 01 February 2010 11:29


Malawi appeared before CEDAW on 22 January 2010.[1] The delegation of Malawi was led by Ms Chikankheni, the Secretary of Gender, Children and Community Development. She was supported by a large number of experts, namely the Senior State Advocate, Reproductive Health Officer, the Assistant Director of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Health, the Assistant Chief Law Reform Officer, the Chairperson of the NGO-Gender Coordinating Network, the Education Specialist in UNICEF Malawi, the Gender Programme officer in UNFPA Malawi, and the Girls Education Officer in UNICEF Malawi. The Committee members commended the delegation for submitting their sixth report on time as an illustration of the State’s concern for gender equality. The Committee was also pleased with the involvement of civil society in helping improve women’s rights.


Although the Committee expressed understanding of the economic and social situation in Malawi, it also encouraged the delegation to address a number of key issues that would help the country to achieve prosperity. It noted that the legal status of the Convention in the Malawian legal order, and its visibility in the judicial system, are rather bleak. There are also a number of bills related to women’s rights pending in the parliament,[2] due to lack of political will and the slow process of adopting laws. Special attention was given to non-ratification of the Gender Equality Bill, which would enforce implementation of quotas in education and employment, since there is a low number of women in the public sector due to lack of adequate education required for higher posts.


Due to the country’s struggling economy, women are affected by high levels of poverty and illiteracy, which hinders their access to information and legal counselling. The Committee therefore stressed the need for parliament to accept the New National Gender Policy, since the previous one expired in 2005. The economic situation has also inhibited the implementation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Moreover, perpetrators of domestic violence are rarely reported to the authorities, since families perceive that the penalisation of the breadwinner would impoverish the whole family. Women also have limited access to credits and subsequently there are few women entrepreneurs. Finally, in patrilineal families when women get a divorce, they have to leave the community and are not entitled to any property. This problem is linked to the High Court’s interpretation that the mere fact of marriage does not mean that property will be equally distributed between husband and wife after divorce.


The country is also struggling with deep rooted traditional practices and values: polygamist marriages which violate gender equality are still a common practice; there is a widespread problem of forced and early marriages, especially in rural areas; and traditional healers prescribe sexual intercourse with young girls to heal them of sexually transmitted diseases.

The Committee also highlighted issues such as: women being tried for witchcraft and prostitution without legal basis; the high dropout rate of school girls due to their responsibility for the household, and sexual harassment of girls in school by their teachers; high rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortions, since abortion is criminalised in Malawi; and a high rate of risky pregnancies and women affected by HIV due to lack of sex education.


The delegation showed openness to dialogue with the Committee and expressed its willingness to improve the situation of women in the future. However, it did stress the challenges the State faces in implementing laws in opposition to popular perceptions and local traditions, as well as on account of the poor economic situation. The delegation struggled to provide the necessary statistics on certain issues, especially domestic violence, abortion rates and sexual harassment rates. However it promised to acquire these statistics for its next periodic report.

[1] Malawi's sixth periodic report, 45th session of CEDAW. All the state's reports and the Cmittee's Concluding Observations are available at

[2] Deceased Estates (Wills, Inheritance and Protection) Bill, Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, Trafficking in Persons Bill, Gender Equality Bill, Child Care, Protection and Justice Bill.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 February 2010 11:31
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