Unique life challenges faced by women

Here are some of the unique life challenges that women face in day-to-day life, that may affect their thoughts, behaviour and attitude towards different aspects of life, and consequently pose an impact on their mental health.


Household duties and role as a carer

Over 70% of women manage a larger part of household duties, such as caretaking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and meal prepping. Yet, less than half of respondents agreed that men should take up more household responsibilities than they do (Women’s Comission, 2010). A lot of women also leave their jobs to engage in general housework or care for family members (Census and Statistics Department, 2015). This reflects an implicit attitude towards women to take up the carer role of the family, which has affected the attitude and expectation for women to fulfil the existing gender role. While this brings stress to women who feel pressured to oblige, it may also lead to guilty feelings when women are unable to fulfil the expectation.

Carers tend to face high levels of stress and are at risk of developing mental health problems. With multiple responsibilities on their plate, they are often unable to put aside time for themselves, let alone seek professional help. On top of that, the busy schedule also prevents them from reaching out to their network of support, which can leave them feeling isolated and lonely.


Sexual objectification

Sexual objectification is not uncommon in Hong Kong and on social media – countless comments and criticisms are made towards women’s physical appearances daily. Media also plays a large part – advertisements, TV programmes and soft news often put emphasis on defining women based on their physical appearance.

This affects women in a few major ways:

  • Women are more susceptible to receiving comments and criticisms on their physical appearance, which is normalised in society. These experiences correlate with higher chances of self-objectification, body dissatisfaction or weight concerns, concerns for physical appearance, and loneliness.
  • When women internalise these experiences, it also affects self-perception. As a result, they are more conscious of their physical appearance and stressed over maintaining a body image that is socially acceptable.
  • Women are more likely to experience sexual harassment or sexual assault, putting them at higher risk of experiencing and being impacted by trauma


These experiences can put women at a higher risk of mental health problems including anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Social norms and body image

The majority of women have been exposed to unrealistic norms around physical appearance and beauty, from the media, friends and family. They have felt the pressure to follow the norms, because they want to be accepted by their social circle, or due to the perceived positive association between better physical appearances and desirable individual life outcomes (Ng, Liu, Gaither, Marsan & Zucker, 2021).

Women are more likely to be dissatisfied with their body shape and have a higher drive for thinness. 63% of young women in Hong Kong are dissatisfied with their physical appearance; they are also likely to perceive themselves as larger than they are (MWYO, 2018). This is especially true for adolescents, as they are still growing and are vulnerable to social influence. A study showed that female adolescents have more weight concerns than male adolescents, with more than 50% of girls expressing the desire to lose weight, and 35% have attempted dieting (Tam, Ng, Yu & Young, 2007). This trend started early in life as well – children after 8 years old, and girls, are twice as likely to desire to lose weight when compared to that of younger children, and boys, respectively (Knowles, Ling, Thomas, Adab & McManus, 2014). The research here demonstrates that children, especially girls are aware and under the social pressure to achieve the ‘ideal’ body shape from a young age.

To tackle the impact of unrealistic norms around ‘ideal’ body shape, different countries, such as France, Spain and Italy, have taken steps to pass legislation to restrict the use of unhealthy/overly-thin models, to encourage healthier body image norms in the fashion industry, and the media. More companies are also using ‘plus-size’ models to encourage body positivity and diversity.

Due to the sexualisation of women from a young age, women are more likely to experience sex-based violence and harassment. A Hong Kong-based study found that close to 40% of women report having experienced sexual violence (Chan, 2022). While another study found that 27% of female university students have experienced sexual harassment (Equal Opportunity Commission, 2019). Experiencing sexual violence and aggression can lead to a variety of mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.


There are existing gender differences in different working industries in Hong Kong, the following are some examples:

  • There are a higher proportion of female workers working in the public administration, social and personal services sector (59.6%), and retail, accommodation and food services sector (57.2%).
  • More women work as clerical support workers (73.6%), or service and sales workers (57.8%), as compared to other occupations such as being a professional (38.4%) or craft and related workers (4.7%).

Women make up 45.3% of the total labour force in Hong Kong, yet only 34.3% are at the senior management level. The issue remains for sectors with similar ratios, such as the financing, insurance, real estate, professional and business services (40.2%),  and retail, accommodation and food services sectors (37.9%).

*All figures are from Women’s commission Hong Kong, 2019


Moreover, there are also some discrepancies in the median monthly earnings among men and women. Aside from associate professionals and clerical support workers, the monthly earnings of men are slightly higher than women on the same payroll.

The “glass ceiling” is the invisible barrier that hinders the career development of a particular population. Despite women having entered the workforce for several decades, the glass ceiling still remains a problem, which brings a great amount of stress to female employees. The stress caused by the glass ceiling, linked to discrimination, unfair pay, and other factors, can cause feelings of isolation, self-doubt and frustration. Women may feel the need to work extra hard to gain recognition or excel in their careers. As a result, they may not be able to make time for their mental health, or be reluctant to reach out when in need, seeking help may be seen as a sign of weakness and perceived as ‘not strong enough for a higher position.

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