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SDGs Goal 5: Addressing Challenges to Gender Equality-the Role of Universities

Emiko Nozawa
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Sociology of Education, Gender, Area Studies, Linguistics, Foreign Language Education

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted at the 2015 United Nations Summit. Interest in the SDGs is increasing rapidly both in Japan and overseas as issues and objectives for all countries in the world, including developed countries. By focusing on universities as centers for creating knowledge and examining research activities by researchers of Chuo University, this special feature explores the role which must be fulfilled by universities in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

In the third installment, Associate Professor Emiko Nozawa (Faculty of Law) discusses the current conditions, issues, and activities for achieving gender equality in India, which is her research area, and also considers the role of universities in achieving SDGs.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are development goals which were adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 with the aim of building a peaceful and fair society. 17 comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were defined in order to achieve the eradication of poverty and hunger, establishment of healthcare and education, and conservation of biodiversity by 2030. Furthermore, 169 specific targets have been set. The SDGs strongly pledge that no one will be left behind. As part of this vision, Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality so that women, who comprise half of the world's population, will have more choices and be able to participate in society. Specific examples of issues requiring action include ending discrimination and violence against women, eradicating practices such as early marriage and genital mutilation that would mentally and physically hurt girls and young women, safeguarding access to reproductive health services, and ensuring equal economic and political participation. A variety of measures has been taken to address these issues in countries throughout the world*1. The SDGs were built on the previous UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2001-2015), with the scope of the goals expanded. However, the fact that several of the SDGs address the same issues as the MDGs--namely, the eradication of poverty and hunger and the elimination of gender inequality--reflects the difficulty of resolving those issues. Indeed, over the past few decades, the United Nations and governments of various countries have repeatedly set similar goals, but have failed to achieve them. The SDGs vision of leaving no one behind demonstrates regret at past failures and a commitment to finally achieving the goals which have been set. Focusing on current gender issues and measures which have been implemented, this article introduces some examples from India, where I conduct my research, and considers the role of university in gender equality.

Gender equality in India

One of the concerns in India is the imbalance in sex ratio. According to UN estimates, the proportion of women in India is lower than the world average*2. In particular, the ratio of males and females from 0 to 6 years old dropped from 945 females per 1,000 males in 1991 to 918 females in 2011. The government has also demonstrated urgent concern for this issue*3. It is surmised that boys are socially and culturally desirable, with the result that many girls from 0 to 5 years old die each year due to neglect. It is also conjectured that the issue has become even more pervasive and serious. Advances in medical technology have enabled prospective parents to know the sex of the fetus, with the result that many girls cannot even be born. This is a cruel irony that the very technology designed to protect maternal and fetal health is being used to take the life of fetuses. Boy preference is ascribed to a general belief that it is the responsibility of sons to take over the household and care for parents. Furthermore, it is widely customary for the bride's family to pay a large amount of dowry to the groom's family at the time of marriage. In some case, the bride's family is forced to sell farmland or take on debt to pay for the dowry. Therefore, the view that a daughter is a burden on parents has become increasingly more prevalent. This emphasis on boys is the same regardless of socioeconomic class or educational background; indeed, it can be said that it is a common belief deeply rooted in society. Women also face a number of other issues in nearly all aspects of their life, including sexual violence, early marriage under the age of 18, harassment over the dowry, prejudice against women suffering from infertility, and discriminatory treatment of widows.

Women's groups in India have held numerous protests which have led to legislative changes such as the legal prohibition of prenatal sex determination, as well as the implementation of stricter punishment for sexual violence and gender equality in inheritance. In 2006, the Ministry of Women and Child Development was established to address the challenges faced by women and children. In 2015, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) initiative was launched in order to improve the situation surrounding girls and to empower girls. This initiative has three main goals: 1) prevent sex-selective abortion, 2) protect girls, and 3) ensure education and social participation for girls*4. In addition to holding various campaigns, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao has decided to introduce various measures in cooperation with local governments, with 100 districts specified as priority areas*5. These issues have been raised in the past only to be left unresolved. However, now that SDGs have been set as global goals, they are no longer simply a domestic problem; instead, resolution is expected within an international framework. These new expectations will test the commitment of the Indian government and its ability to execute those goals .

Initiatives for gender equality in education

Gender equality in education is a priority item within Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. In 2001, the program Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) (Education for All) was established with the goal of universalizing primary education to include all children. From scholarships for female students and recruitment of female teachers to gender-separated toilets and the establishment of free boarding schools for poor girls, the efforts have continued to create a safe environment for girls. In Bihar state, where I conduct research, primary schools have been built within a distance that enables students to commute safely to school and new teachers are being appointed since around 2005. Previously, there were many girls who did not have a chance to attend school because they were forced to help with housework and agricultural work. Recently, many of these girls have begun attending some kind of schools, including public schools, private schools, and NGOs. Factors contributing to these changes include a safe commute to school, an increase in the number of female teachers, and a shift in attitudes toward girls' education in the community. The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), boarding schools named after Mahatma Gandhi's wife, provides educational materials, uniforms, and meals free of charge to girls from economically disadvantaged households in order to ensure the provision of education without economic burden. In areas where there is little interest in girls' education, a women's organization related to the KGBV visits villages to hold information sessions and engages in dialogues with parents.

In addition to educational measures, economic incentives are also affecting women's education. Government and NGO development and welfare programs for women and children recruit part-time female staff and provide a valuable opportunity for underprivileged women to earn cash wages, however small. Such programs require a certain number of years of schooling, so some adult women who had left school due to early marriage have begun to resume their schooling and seek employment. While many women face opposition from their families, some women successfully obtain the cooperation of their husbands. Although the situation is still varied and complex, there are signs that conventional views on education and family relations are beginning to change.

Gender stereotypes are deeply rooted in social culture and cannot be changed overnight. However, studies have shown that there is a correlation between the survival rate of girls and the mother's participation in labor market and right to make household decisions*6. Through my own field research, I have clarified that many young women from farming villages who went to school feel that education allows women to have dignity and acquire useful knowledge. It is also revealed that these women want their own children to receive the same level of education regardless of gender. In conjunction with increased social participation and rights to self-determination among women, there are expectations for a gradual movement towards gender equality. The Indian government, NGOs, and international organizations must expand their measures in order to support such trends.

Scope and challenges of SDGs Goal 5 "Gender Equality"

Goal 5 of the SDGs focuses on improving women's environment and empowering women. There is little mention of issues faced by men and sexual minorities. Imposed gender norms and unseen regulations allowing no room for deviation are at the core of repression of men and prejudice towards sexual minorities. In 2018, the United Nations Development Programme responded to comments regarding such issues by proposing various SDGs for equality and inclusion of sexual minorities*7. Moving forward, expanding the scope of the SDGs and engaging in flexible operation will enable us to build a more just society in which people of various genders work together.

Role of universities

In order to achieve SDGs which span various fields, it is necessary to understand the current situation, analyze the causes, search for solutions, and evaluate existing measures. This process requires a high level of expertise as well as exchanges and accumulation of knowledge which go beyond individual disciplines. As such, universities that conduct research in various fields play a major role. At the same time, problem resolution collaboration among a wide range of actors including universities, governments, private institutions, international organizations, and local communities is also essential for solving problems.

One responsibility of universities as an educational institution is to develop young human resources. The Faculty of Law aims to help our students develop a global legal mind and the critical-creative perspectives necessary for an autonomous global citizen. In one of my classes, I have students research issues related to human rights and social justice referring to English publications, and submit weekly reports. In the autumn semester of 2019, I set gender equality as a common theme, and had each student select and research individual issues such as domestic violence, child marriage, discrimination against sexual minorities, etc. Through each other's reports, students studying overseas cases and students focusing on issues in Japan understood that the same sorts of challenges exist in both Japan and foreign countries, and in both advanced nations and developing nations; that is, a shared social and cultural structure lies behind the issues. Students also learned that resolution requires cooperation from local society, and sometimes cooperation across national borders.

In one sense, the SDGs seek to achieve a world unlike anything that has been seen before. In order to approach this ideal, universities are expected to make even greater contributions towards the education of young people and the creation of new wisdom.

  1. ^ Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations Information Centre
    Viewed on December 16, 2019.
  2. ^ World Population Prospects 2019, United Nations
    Viewed on December 16, 2019.
  3. ^ Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Government of India
    Viewed on December 16, 2019.
  4. ^ Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Government of India
    Viewed on December 16, 2019.
  5. ^ Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, vikaspedia
    Viewed on December 19, 2019.
  6. ^ Kazuya Wada (2007) Gender Bias in Child Mortality, Women's Education and Labor Participation: An Empirical Analysis of Census of India 1991, Ajia Keizai 48 (8), pp. 24-44.
  7. ^ Jeffrey O'Malley et al. (2018) Sexual and gender minorities and the Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations Development Programme, 2018.
    Viewed on December 19, 2019.
Emiko Nozawa
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Sociology of Education, Gender, Area Studies, Linguistics, Foreign Language Education
Emiko Nozawa graduated from the School of Arts and Sciences, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University in 1992.
In 2012, she completed the Ph.D. course at the University of California, Los Angeles (Ph.D. in Education).
She served as a Project Assistant Professor at the College of Arts and Sciences/the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo, Komaba before assuming her current position in 2019.
Her current research themes include women’s education and gender equality in India, minority language education, and English education. Her main written works include Cultural Sustainability and Tribal Languages—Example of the Santali Language in India, In Globalization and Language Policy—Building a Sustainable Inclusive Society and Language Education (written and edited by Satoshi Miyazaki and Toshiko Sugino), published by Akashi Shoten, 2017 and more.