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Agenda 2030: China, SDGs, and Goal Number 5 – Gender Equality

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Visual Summary of the 17 SDGs © Nayan hello world /CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

In today’s world there is a consistent number of challenges affecting all countries and, as a consequence, requiring shared action to be faced. Since 2000, the United Nations launched two 15-year Global Agendas, setting different goals to cope with global threats: the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) between 2000 and 2015, and the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs), established in 2015. One of the major global threats is certainly gender inequality, addressed by SDG number 5. As stressed in the United Nations Academic Impact’s website “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.” China still has a long way to go to reach gender equality, but in recent years it showed great commitment to the fulfilment of this goal. The COVID-19 outbreak, which contributed to highlighting critical issues, appears to have slowed down the process that brings to the achievement of this and other goals, and makes it difficult to define future predictions. However, we can try to outline the progress made so far. In this article, after giving a brief overview of the MDGs and the SDGs, a description of China’s effort to pursue the SDGs will be provided. Then, the last part of the paper will focus on China and goal number 5. This analysis will also help outline a broader image of the role of women and girls in China and of what the PRC is doing to reach gender equality.

The MDGs and the SDGs: UN Agendas for Global Governance

The MDGs, jointly approved by the then 189 UN member states, were established in 2000 and consisted in eight goals to be attained before 2015. In 2015, not all the goals were achieved, with some new and more complex challenges rising. Therefore, the same year a new agenda was launched, setting 17 new goals – the SDGs – to be attained before 2030, and jointly approved by the now 193 UN member states. The so-called Agenda 2030 addresses every country without distinction, regardless of their industrialization and developmental level: it represents a variation when compared to the MDGs, which were addressed only to developing countries. Moreover, the SDGs, unlike the MDGs, were not imposed top-down by the United Nations but shaped by a joint involvement of all members, and this resulted in all countries’ greater commitment in pursuing them. As stressed by Biermann (2017), the SDGs represent “a novel approach to global governance where goals-setting features as a key-strategy.”

China and the SDGs

China, especially in the past few years, committed greatly to the achievement of the SDGs. According to the figures in the Sustainable Development Report 2020 , the PRC ranks 48 out of the 193 UN members in the SDGs index with a score of 73.89, with this score interpreted as “the percentage of SDG achievement”. The Government works on sustainable development “through capital investment, cooperation and exchange, and supervision and control” (Xie, Wen, Choi, 2021). Moreover, it is putting forward national strategies in parallel with international ones, in order to accelerate the process bringing to the fulfillment of some goals. For instance, the PRC Government included the Sustainable Goals in the 2016-2020 Five Year Plan. Furthermore, the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping mandate’s signature, became an instrument to promote the Agenda 2030, to such an extent that the United Nations’ Economic Analysis and Policy Division launched a project aimed at building the Belt and Road as a supporting element to the SDGs. At the same time, “the 2030 Agenda complements the BRI by highlighting sustainability—a critical aspect for BRI’s credibility” (Horvath, 2016).

However, we should keep in mind that China is covering an immense territory, with very different realities and existing gaps and disparities between East and West, North and South, rural and urban areas. Wang, Lu, He, Wang, Yuan and Cao (2020) made a very accurate sub-national analysis. The results “showed that the state of sustainable development in China is characterized by its pronounced geographic zones.” Simply put, the eas