Can the world progress on Gender Equality when India and China do not progress at the pace required?



The SDG tracker of the UN ( provides data (to the extent available), on where different countries are placed on different SDG indicators. This article unravels the progress of China and India - two big economies in Asia and the world- on SDG 5 Indicators from the 1990s to the latest available year. Together these two countries account for 36% of the world population. The article argues that the world cannot achieve SDG 5 unless these two countries hasten the pace required.  The article also tries to explore possible factors that explain the differences and similarities in progress/lack of progress that are seen between the two countries, and measures that may be required to achieve SDG 5.  It argues that measures proposed by the governments are necessary, but not sufficient to achieve SDG 5.

Progress of India and China on SDG 5: Findings from the UN SDG tracker


The Target 5.1By 2030 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere” has one indicator (5.1.1) namely ‘whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and, monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex’. The SDG- tracker records that both India and China have universal suffrage and mandates non-discrimination in hiring. India’s Constitution mentions non-discrimination on the basis of sex.  The SDG tracker notes that no data on the constitutional inclusion of non-discrimination on the basis of gender could be gathered on China as of 2015  (  A larger question unanswered by the indicator itself, is whether gender discrimination will end with legal frameworks!

The Target 5.2 “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation” is tracked on two indicators. The first indicator ‘proportion of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by form of violence and by age’. Data shows that the proportion of women who have experienced such intimate partner violence is higher in India (38.74% in 2016) when compared to China (25.46% in 2016). Further, if one looks at trends, the figure on proportion of women facing intimate partner violence decreased faster in china from 37.44 in 1990 when compared to India wherein the incidence was 43.16% in 1990. If the same rate of decrease in intimate partner violence follows, the target of elimination intimate partner violence cannot be achieved in India and may not be achieved in China as well. There is no data on proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to sexual violence by persons other than an intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by age and place of occurrence for both countries, showing huge gaps in data, which is the second indicator. 

With respect to Target 5.3   “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” data on the first indicator namely ‘share of women aged 20-24 who were married by 18’ was available only for India in the SDG tracker, and revealed that 25.3% of women in this age group were married by 18 years as of 2016. The figure was 50.2% in 1993. If the same trend continues the figure of eliminating child marriage may not be achieved.  There is no data on prevalence and trends in Female Genital Mutilation in India and China, though in India it is practiced by a sect of a minority community,

Target 5.4 states “Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate” Indicator 5.4.1 is ‘the proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age and location’.  In 2008, the average time spent by women on domestic work (paid and unpaid) was higher in the case of China (8.28 hours in 2008) than India (7.37 hours in 2008). By 2018 things had reversed, though gender disparities in responsibility for care work persisted. Women in China spend on an average 241 minutes on unpaid work per day, while men spend 91 minutes on an average as of 2018. In the same year (2018) Indian women on an average spent 352 minutes on a typical day, while men spend 52 minutes. The gender disparities in care work were higher in India than China in 2018. Nevertheless both the countries may not achieve shared responsibility for care work.

Target 5.5 affirms “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life”. The first indicator (5.5.1) related to this target states proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and b) local government. .   Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament in India is 11.8% as of 2017, with the comparative figure being 24.2% in the case of China. Looking at trends, the proportion of seats has climbed from 5% to 11.8% between 1990 and 2017 in India. In the case of China, the proportion has increased from 21.3% in 1990 to 24.2%. In both countries, the target of women’s equal participation in parliament is unlikely to be achieved by 2030. Data is not provided by the SDG 5 tracker on participation of women in local government, where both countries are likely to score better.   As part of indicator 5.5.1 the tracker provides information on proportion of women in ministerial positions India (18.5%) scores better than China (10%) as of 2016. This proportion has grown from 3.4% to 18.5% in the case of India between 2005 and 2016, while it has grown at a slower pace from 6.3% to 10% in the case of China.  The second indicator for target 5.5 is “the proportion of women in managerial positions” (5.5.3). Indian women constituted only 8.9% of firms in 2014, while the comparable figure is 17.5% in China in 2012. Data on trends was not available, but the status 2012/2014 indicates that equality in proportion of managerial posts held by women and men is unlikely to be achieved by 2030. There is no data on India and China on the sub- indicator of female share of employment in middle and senior management referred to in the SDG tracker (available only for few countries). 

 Target 5.6 states “By 2030 ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights”. Indicator 5.6.1 is ‘the proportion of women aged 15–49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care’. On this indicator data is not available for both India and China (though available for a few other countries). Data is not as yet available for the second indicator 5.6.2 (Number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee full and equal access to women and men aged 15 years and older to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education) for all countries.

Target 5.A is “Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws”. Data on Indicator 5 A. 1 ‘proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure’ was not available for India and China.  The SDG tracker does not provide data on this indicator for India and China, which is surprising as FAO provides sex-disaggregated data al least on agricultural holdings. Yet another indicator, 5.A.2 is ‘the proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control’. The SDG tracker notes that both men and women in India and China have equal ownership rights to property as of 2015. However this is de-jure right and not a de-facto right.  

Target 5.B is “By 2030 enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women”. On the indicator 5.B.1 “the proportion of individuals who own a mobile telephone, by sex” there is no data for both the countries. With respect to Target 5.C: “Adopt and strengthen policies and enforceable legislation for gender equality”, no data is available for the indicator ‘Proportion of countries with systems to track and make public allocations for gender equality and women’s empowerment’.

 Government’s perspective on progress on SDG 5: India and China

 The Voluntary National Review Report of India, submitted by the Indian government in the UN High Level Political forum 2017 uses fairly different set of indicators to report on SDG 5 and not the ones that are part of the SDG5 targets and indicators (Government of India, 2017). Largely indicators on which more progress has been made are reported like improvement in body mass index, reduction in fertility, household with access to clean fuel (assuming it is women’s responsibility to cook), women who are literate and proportion of women with bank accounts (not in comparison to men). Except for gender gap in bank accounts, the others are not in the official list of SDG 5 indicators of the Indian government itself.  The only gap in performance that the Indian government admits to is female labour force participation, which it admits is low and has declined. Analysis of caste, ethnic and regional differences in achievement of SDG 5 are not examined. There is no analysis of whether the SDG 5 targets and indicators would be achieved at the present pace of progress (Government of India, 2017).  

The National Progress Report of China, 2017, is more admitting of the lacunas like rural urban differences in gender equality, and gaps across region. Like the case of India, trends are not examined to arrive at a judgement of whether SDG targets will be achieved People’s Republic of China, 2017)

Both the governments mention that they will ensure better implementation/enforcement of laws and policies, and “training” women to assume managerial positions. Whether legislation is enough to change gender discriminatory practices is not examined


Box 1 Gender norms in India and China

Gender norms are deeply retrenched in both India and China, and are a deep barrier to achieving SDG 5. The Social Institutions and Gender Index profile of both countries for 2019, notes the proportion of population mentioning that children would suffer if women work outside is 76% in the case of India and 42% in the case of China (OECD, 2019a, b). The proportion of women who justify domestic violence, on the other hand, is more in the case of China (33%) than India (22%). Sex-ratio at birth is slightly more skewed in China (111.1) and then India (115.8). Given the persistent gender discriminatory social norms in both countries,



Thus it appears, that both India and China are off the mark on most SDG 5 indicators for which data is available in the SDG tracker, with India being more so than China on most indicators (other than proportion of women in Ministerial positions). With these two countries, accounting for 36% of the population in 2019, unlikely to achieve SDG 5 by 2030 the chances of the world population achieving are also dimmer.  

Yet another finding, is that while constitution may uphold gender equality (like in the case of India), gender equality in practice requires changes in government policies, social norms, more of the state and collective units managed by women and less of the market. The primary motive of the market as an institution is to make profit, and is not geared to measures to promote substantive equality like providing access to child care, breast feeding spaces, flexible work space and timing, affirmative action in recruitment, training and promotion.

The orientation of the economy also has a role to play. Transition from centralised to market led economies in China, has led to decline in child care services and decrease in labour force participation of women (Du and Dong, 2013). Regressive population policies, on top of a cultural that privileges sons, can have an adverse impact on gender issues.  In China the population control policy introduced in 1979 (relaxed since 2015) which stipulated one child per family may have increased son preference, and contributed to the skewed sex ratio at birth in favour of boys. This is also true of incentives offered by Indian government to restrict family size.

Both governments have enforced favourable legislation and policies on right to inherit property, equal wages, against domestic violence, rape etc. In addition China has a legislation to prohibit marital status or pregnancy/childbirth status form being used in employment decisions, rights of women to martial property (not full) (OECD, 2019, People’s Republic of China, 2016, 2017). China has a quota of 22% for women in lower parliament.   India on the other hand, has more democratic space for women’s voices to be heard and space for dissent, though shrinking (Government of India and UN, 2017). Both countries can learn from each other

While both India and China have evolved a framework for achieving SDGs, there are not any drastic measures that have been suggested to facilitate progress towards SDG 5.  What may be in order is to work with men and boys on gender norms, work with women not only as survivors of gender discriminators but also perpetrators, strengthening government provision of care, safe transport and essential services (like water, health, education etc.), incentive for choice marriages, joint registration of marital property apart from inheritance rights, 50% quotas for women in economic, political and socio cultural spaces, flexible working space and time and promotion of collective financial institutions, value chains and services   Vibrant democracy and state led development is a must.   



Du, Fenglian and Xiao-yuan Dong, 2013 Women’s Employment and Child Care Choices in Urban China during the Economic Transition  Economic Development and Cultural Change Vol. 62, No. 1 (October 2013), pp. 131-155

Government of India, 2017, Voluntary National Review Report: India On the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, UN HLPF 2017, New York

Government of India and the United Nations, 2017, Sustainable Development Framework, 2018-2022, Government of India, New Delhi

Lily Kuo and Xueying Wang, 2019 Can China recover from its Disastrous one Child Policy,, The Guardian, March 2, 2019

People’s Republic of China, 2017, China’s Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China.

People’s Republic of China, 2016, China’s National Plan on Implementation of Agenda for Sustainable Development,   Setpember, 2016, 

The Organisaiton for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2019a, Social Institutions and Gender Index, People’s Republic of China, OECD

The Organisaiton for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2019b, Social Institutions and Gender Index, People’s Republic of India, OECD

United Nations, 2018, Measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,

World Bank, 2019, Labor force participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+) (modelled ILO estimate)



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Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on October 23, 2019 at 7:22

Dear Susmita

Thanks for your comments. I think both global and national indicators are important. Global for comparison across countries, and national for looking at problems that are specific to our country. Yes the rural urban data needs to be added, and that is missing in the SDG tracker

While poverty is a reality, gender norms and inequality is a reason for both households slipping into poverty (eg. expense on dowry, alcoholism, gambling) and for women being in poverty (unequal wages, lack of ownership of resources).  Hence poverty has to be addressed from a gender inequality (and caste/intersectional  inequality) as well. 

Thanks again


Comment by susmita mukherjee on October 11, 2019 at 11:49

very nicely articulated with facts and figures. However, Indicators have their own limitations and they cannot always tell the success or failure. social normative changes - its pace and quality cannot be judged by merely looking at these global indicators and their metrics. On ground, the situation is further getting complicated as the new generation is struggling for existence and identify and more confused between self promotion or equality. further the rural urban divide is a big factor.

However, its good that SDG trackers are atleast giving us a glimpse of the grim situation. thanks for bringing our attention to such a core issue.

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