Rape and Domestic Violence: The penal code criminalizes rape with a maximum penalty of death. The Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Act enacted in April explicitly introduced the concept of spousal rape, but the act does not prescribe specific penalties and only applies to legally separated spouses. Spousal rape may be prosecuted under the rape provisions of the penal code. The government generally enforced the law effectively, and convicted rapists routinely received prison sentences. Data on the prevalence of rape or spousal rape and conviction figures were unavailable; however, press reports of rape and defilement arrests and convictions were an almost daily occurrence. Although the maximum penalty for rape is death or life imprisonment, the courts generally imposed fixed prison sentences. For cases of indecent assault on women and girls, the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, Social Welfare, and Disabilities conducted public education campaigns to combat domestic violence and rape.
The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for domestic violence and recognizes that both men and women can be perpetrators as well as victims. According to the 2012 Gender Based Violence Baseline Survey, 40 percent of women had experienced sexual violence and 30 percent experienced other physical violence. Domestic violence, especially wife beating, was common, although women seldom discussed the problem openly, and victims rarely sought legal recourse. Legal experts and human rights workers attributed victims’ reluctance to report their abusers to economic dependence on the abuser, lack of awareness of their legal rights, and fear of retribution and ostracism. Police regularly investigated cases of rape and sexual assault but did not normally intervene in domestic disputes. Police support units provided shelter to some abuse victims and dealt with human rights and gender-based violence, but officers’ capacity to assist and document cases was limited.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. According to press reports from 2011, some cases of FGM/C were prosecuted as unlawful wounding. A 2014 UN Human Rights Committee report expressed concern over the existence of FGM/C in some regions of the country. A few small ethnic groups practiced FGM/C. In most cases FGM/C was performed on girls between 10 and 15 years old.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The Gender Equality Act of 2013 prohibits certain harmful traditional practices, including “widow cleansing” and “widow inheritance.” Nonetheless, in a few isolated areas, widows were sometimes forced to have sex with male in-laws or a designee as part of a culturally mandated “sexual cleansing” ritual following the death of the husband. In some cases widows were “inherited” by a brother-in-law or other male relative. The government and NGOs continued efforts to abolish such practices by raising awareness concerning the inherent dangers of such behavior, including the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission.
Despite certain legal prohibitions, many abusive practices, including the secret initiation of girls into their future adult roles, continued. In a few traditional communities, girls as young as 10 were forced to have sexual relations with older men as part of such initiation rites. “Kupimbira,” a practice that allows a poor family to receive a loan or livestock in exchange for daughters of any age, existed in some areas.
Sexual Harassment: The Gender Equality Act makes sexual harassment punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Extreme cases could be prosecuted under certain sections of the penal code, such as indecent assault on a woman or girl, which carries up to a 14-year prison sentence, or insulting the modesty of a woman, a misdemeanor punishable by one year’s incarceration. Although sexual harassment was believed to be widespread, there were no data on its prevalence or on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government allowed health-care clinics and local NGOs to operate freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. There were no restrictions on the right to use contraceptives, but access was limited in rural areas. The Malawi National Statistical Office (NSO) estimated that 57.4 percent of married women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2014. The government provided free childbirth services, but their availability depended upon access to hospitals and other medical facilities in rural areas. The NSO estimated the maternal mortality rate was 574 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 34. AIDS and adolescent pregnancy both were factors in these high rates. The NSO estimated 143 per thousand girls and young women between ages 15 and 19 gave birth each year. Nurses and midwives were a critical component of prenatal and postnatal care due to a shortage of doctors. According to the NSO, skilled health-care providers assisted in 87 percent of births in 2014. There was only limited access to emergency obstetric care, however, particularly in rural areas.
Discrimination: Under the law women have the same legal status and rights as men and may not be discriminated against based on gender or marital status, including in the workplace (see section 7.d.). Women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, as well as lower rates of access to resources for farming.
Women often had less access to legal and financial assistance, and widows often were victims of discriminatory and illegal inheritance practices in which most of an estate was taken by the deceased husband’s family.
Women usually were at a disadvantage in marriage, family, and property rights; however, awareness of women’s legal rights continued to increase. Households headed by women were predominately in the lowest quarter of income distribution. More than half--52 percent--of full-time farmers were women, but they had limited access to agricultural extension services, training, and credit.
The law provides for a minimum level of child support, widows’ rights, and maternity leave; however, only women employed in the formal sector knew their rights and had access to the legal system, and thus benefited from these legal protections.
The government addressed women’s concerns through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Social Welfare, and Disability.