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Women, Hygiene and the Family

Women at the heart of family hygiene
According to SCA international survey, the family is the principle place where hygiene information is disseminated and learnt, and how mothers are at the core of that process. Motherhood concentrates women’s natural predisposition towards maintaining their own personal hygiene, whilst also refocusing it onto the habits and values of their children, and the immediate environment their families inhabit, as long as that environment can be controlled, maintained and improved.
According to SCA international survey, the moment when the perspective of that feminine instinct for cleanliness shifts from personal to collective is the birth of the first child. Families look after the hygiene of their own, and mothers are the hub of families. Therefore, women’s importance within the hygiene context cannot be overstated.
Personal hygiene and upbringing
Of all the concerns that parents stress in terms of their children’s up-bringing, personal hygiene ranks highest, according to SCA international survey. As a whole, women stress the importance of children’s personal hygiene more than men do.
For young women a turning point in their lives would appear to be the birth of their first child. Not only do they become more aware of their own personal hygiene, but they also focus more on hygiene standards around them. Over half start to wash their hands more often and become more cautious about the sort of hygiene products they buy for their households. Over a third admits to becoming more aware of deficient hygiene standards around them in their daily lives, and to an increased caution about which hygiene products they use themselves.
SCA international survey also shows that these figures are even more marked in emerging markets such as China, Mexico and Russia, and more still amongst young mothers, particularly ones in more mature markets, who change their habits more radically than any other group, or than older mothers remember doing.
Mothers first
Within families, both girls and boys turn to their mothers first on matters of personal hygiene, as against only 6% of girls and 15% of boys who would consult their fathers first. Boys would in fact talk to their friends before their father. Almost half of married men would discuss personal hygiene with their partner before any other relative. Whether as wives or mothers, therefore, women are central to communication within families.
Internet – an unpredictable variable
A new and as yet unquantifiable variable has entered this timeless dynamic in the form of the Internet, which is rapidly overhauling the family as the main source of information and discussion regarding health and hygiene, particularly amongst young people. In the age group of 15– 25, twice as many would rather turn to the Internet for information and knowledge concerning hygiene than to their family. And judging by the steady downward slope of the latter and the inexorable rise of the former, the two will converge sooner rather than later.
Still, however, the family remains the primary forum for discussion, education and knowledge concerning personal hygiene. And women are the main source and filter of that knowledge and discussion.
Hand washing tops the list
Just as personal hygiene is considered the most important part of up-bringing, hand washing is the most fundamental aspect of hygiene. It is universal for parents to nag their children about washing their hands after visiting the toilet, only marginally less so to insist on hand washing before eating.
According to SCA international survey, the degree of importance placed on hand washing as an aspect of children’s health differs significantly in different cultures, however. Around three in ten respondents in China and Mexico see it as the most important aspect of their children’s health, as opposed to little more than one in ten in Sweden and the UK.
Parents link hygiene with health
Amongst all parents, the possibility of their children contracting an illness is by far their greatest concern regarding their personal hygiene, over 40% citing it as their main worry. But added to that, a quarter of parents fear that lack of personal hygiene will have a negative impact on their children’s self-confidence, wellbeing and social interactions.  About one fifth of all mothers are concerned about other people’s perception of them as a result of their children’s personal hygiene. But close to the same proportion, however, are concerned about the potential risks of their children being overly hygienic – developing allergies and skin conditions, for example.
Women as primary hygiene consumers
In general women buy, or at least control, what products come into their homes. According to SCA international survey, in the overwhelming majority of households’ women buy hygiene-related products, with a little over one in ten fathers buying personal hygiene products for their children.
This female predominance continues in terms of shared responsibility for buying hygiene products for the household. In seven of the nine countries surveyed fewer than half the respondents could say that they and their partners share equal responsibility, although in an interesting discrepancy between men and women, double as many men claim to share the buying of domestic household products than the number of women who would agree.
Importance of sustainable hygiene in emerging markets
In emerging markets there would appear to be considerable potential for greater innovation in terms of the development and marketing of hygiene products. Up to six in ten consumers in these markets cannot find the hygiene products they need; as many as seven in ten feel under-informed about the products they buy. In China and Russia over half say that personal hygiene products are too expensive.
Another crucial aspect of these emerging markets is the latent worry shown by consumers over the contents and materials in hygiene products. As many as 80% of Mexicans surveyed worry about whether hygiene products may contain materials that are potentially harmful for their children, 60% of Russians, over half for  Chinese. In the UK and Sweden, by contrast, consumers appear largely unconcerned in this regard.
Whether these results are due to unfounded suspicion or to genuine experience of harmful materials in hygiene products, particularly in emerging markets, they should constitute an area of concern for providers of hygiene products. A sizeable minority of distrustful and anxious consumers must have a powerful negative impact both on commercial interests in these markets and on hygiene generally.
According to SCA international survey, in buying personal hygiene products, the young feel especially insecure, two thirds saying that they feel uninformed as to which products best suit their needs, almost six in ten worrying about the expense of hygiene products, and almost one in three expressing embarrassment about buying the products they need.
Again, young women are key
As a whole, it would be fair to say that women care especially about their own personal hygiene, and are more open and forthcoming about hygiene issues. Women take responsibility for hygiene-related matters within the family, young women are more aware of, and anxious about, their personal hygiene than older women, and first-time mothers is a sensitive category.
There is a case, therefore, for making young mothers a particular focal point for information, education and help regarding hygiene and hygiene products, as they are the hub of future families and they are the demographic that expresses most anxiety about hygiene and hygiene products.
It would appear to be beyond question that better hygiene, and knowledge of issues and products related to hygiene, is a goal to which many aspire, particularly women, and that many consider essential to their well being.
Defining a sense of wellbeing
But populations in more mature markets, with more trust in the products they buy and more reason to believe they can maintain higher standards of hygiene in regard to themselves, their families and their immediate domestic environments, can perhaps afford to refocus their concept of wellbeing onto more diffuse concerns. It may still be be-yond the reach of many in emerging markets, however, to spread their net out to include such areas as schools, the public domain outside their homes and a more general sense of feeling good about oneself’. In emerging markets there is still a tangible sense in our survey results that the right to good, modern standards of personal and domestic hygiene continues.
The desires are the same, only the realities differ”.
SCA Hygiene Matters Report 2011
Click here to view the full SCA Hygiene Matters Report 2011.