Ruby Cup and access to clean water: menstrual health management in regions where water is scarce

Ruby Cup and access to clean water: menstrual health management in regions where water is scarce

When people read about our social impact projects in low-income countries, their first question often is: but how do they boil their cups in regions when there’s only very little access to water?

The answer is simple: before donating Ruby Cups, our partners ensure that the programme participants have everything they need to use their menstrual cup safely.

They make sure the girls and women who participate in the programme have access to safe facilities (toilets with a door), plus a safe way for them to boil their Ruby Cup at the end of their period.

Beyond verifying that there is enough access to water, our partners’ holistic approach also includes evaluating attitudes and the general acceptance of using an internal period product in the community before holding a workshop and distributing Ruby Cups.

Lack of clean water prevents safe menstrual health management

One of the most important parts of being able to manage a period safely is access to clean water, which, depending on the region, can be a challenge.

As the UN states, today there are billions of people still lacking access to safe drinking water. Marginalized groups are often the ones who struggle most: women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people.

The USAID reports: “Women and girls often bear primary responsibility for providing drinking water and sanitation to their families and are disproportionately affected when they have to travel to reach these services/facilities.”

And it’s clear, if there’s not enough clean water available for girls and women to boil their Ruby Cup, we cannot distribute donations there. Keep in mind, when we say clean water we do not mean “drinking water quality”.

Why using a menstrual cup works so well in low-income regions where water is scarce

As mentioned above, having to get water often falls among the tasks girls and women have to take care of. If a piece of cloth or old blanket is the next best period product at hand, then at some point it will have to be washed, alongside stained clothes. It will have to be changed more often, which will not always be possible due to lack of safe facilities.

Switching to a Ruby Cup can be a stress-reliever. Here’s why:

  • Finding the privacy to change a pad several times a day can be stressful when safe and clean toilets are rare.Disposing of traditional pads is also an issue. Many girls report avoiding changing their pad in school or public latrines. Many girls who received a Ruy Cup only need to empty it in the morning and in the evening, allowing them to have a worry-free day at school. This can be a confidence-booster.
  • Washing used pieces of cloth or pieces old blanket requires more water than cleaning and boiling a Ruby Cup. The stained cloth has to be scrubbed with soap, whereas Ruby Cup only requires water. Some of our long-term partners provide their programme participants with their own bowls so they can safely disinfect their Ruby Cup.
  • Air-drying the damp pieces of cloth poses a challenge in the rainy season, and wearing a damp piece of cloth in the panties puts girls and women at higher risk of infection.
  • Many girls and women cannot afford underwear, Ruby Cup offers them a menstrual solution that does not require any extra items of clothing.

Case Studies: Using Ruby Cups in Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Uganda and in Turkana, Kenya

In collaboration with Save the Children, we have successfully distributedRuby Cup in Turkana, one of the driest regions of Kenya. In Uganda, we have collaborated with Womena and Care in the distribution pilot of Ruby Cup to women in the Imvepi Refugee Camp.

In Imvepi, access to water is limited, which, as the study found, only enhanced the benefits of using a Ruby Cup for the 100 women and girls that received one.

There, most girls and women were using pieces of cloth or cut out pieces of a blanket to manage menstruation, which they had to wash and hang out to dry. Not only does the washing of those pads require a lot of water, but also the social stigma when people see girls or women drying their pieces of a cloth used for menstruation causes girls and women to feel embarrassed and limited in being able to use it safely.

Now, with their Ruby Cups, these problems are a thing of the past.

In Loima sub-county of Turkana County in Kenya, we partnered with Save the Children to pilot Ruby Cups with 31 girls from two primary schools. The schools were selected during a program stakeholder learning forum organized by Save the Children. Seven government officials and two teachers were also included in the pilot. Both schools had safe water as well as toilets with lockable doors. The schools had rainwater harvesting systems and water tanks for storage.

Wrapping it up: Clean water is essential for safe menstrual health management

Safe menstrual health management is the key for girls and women to reach their full potential.
We distribute Ruby Cups because we see so much potential in these little medical-grade silicone cups for solving obstacles girls and women face when adequate menstrual health management is out of reach.


Unsafe menstrual health management doesn’t just affect girls experiencing menstruation for various days a month; it has an impact on a much broader scale.

The World Bank writes: “A growing body of evidence shows that girls’ inability to manage their menstrual hygiene in schools, results in school absenteeism, which in turn, has severe economic costs on their lives and on the country.”

Menstruation does not disappear under tough circumstances. Access to clean drinking water is a human right and so is being able to manage periods in safety and with dignity.

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