Women face many challenges in the course of their lives that are less common in men's lives or that women experience differently from men. Four areas in which women face particular challenges are work, caregiving, education and exercise.
Most women have children and women are usually the main caregivers; 80–90% of single parents are women. The lack of joint parental leave and benefits in the UK may mean that the salary of the lower-earning partner in a couple is more likely to be sacrificed to maintain family income. This may mean women either return to work part time or, for some women, working and earning a living becomes less of a priority. Some women may also lose the sense of achievement that work can provide once they become mothers. If they return to work on a part-time basis, generally, they have less opportunity for advancing their careers than men. In some societies and cultures (including in the UK), women have restricted workplace roles and any attempt to break free of these is shunned or stigmatised.
Despite progress, women continue to be underrepresented in senior positions in business, education, and private and public institutions, and to occupy more lower paid and part-time positions. Some believe that ‘voluntary’ childcare responsibilities contribute to that, but others have argued that childcare is poorly valued and given less respect compared with workplace progression. As time out from the workplace costs women experience, promotions and salary raises, and because women are less likely than men to ask for salary raises and promotions, it is easy to see how this may create a ‘feedback loop’ that reinforces the expectation that women will be the ones to take time off work. Affordable childcare and safe environments in which women can raise children, with sufficient social support and personal health protection, are important elements in preventing the discrimination in the workplace associated with having children. Recent changes to maternity/parental leave (i.e. shared leave) are a good first step, but in themselves are not likely to be enough to challenge the societal assumption that women are the primary caregivers and should sacrifice their careers.