People living in and around the Barotse Floodplain are some of the poorest in Zambia due to many factors restricting their abilities to engage in activities to secure food and income. Women, and in particular resident women, are especially constrained given certain gender norms and power relations that hamper them from accessing and adequately benefiting from the natural fishery. Resident women typically rely on other, less remunerative means to secure their livelihoods. Having greater capital, education and confidence, non-resident women fish traders have different relations with fishers but their negotiations can still put them at a personal and economic disadvantage in securing access to fish. This paper employs a social relations perspective to investigate the role that institutions play in producing and reinforcing gender inequalities within the natural fishery value chain. Qualitative data from two studies carried out in 2013 were analysed. Findings show how deep rooted certain norms, practices and power relations are and their influence shaping women’s (and men’s) participation in key nodes of the value chain. The paper suggests options that include approaches and interventions that recognise the centrality of social relations in determining constraints and opportunities for women and men dependent on the Barotse Floodplain fishery.