The unequal status of women in Malawi is shaped by the inter-locking factors of general poverty, discriminatory treatment in the family and public life. Both matrilineal and patrilineal systems operate in Malawi’s ethnic groups and it is reported that both systems perpetuate discrimination against women in the family with respect to control over resources.

Sections 20 and 41 of the Constitution of Malawi uphold the principle of equal rights for men and women and prohibit any discrimination based on gender or marital status. The Republic of Malawi ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1987. Malawi signed the Optional Protocol in 2000, but has yet to proceed with ratification. It ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2005.