Menstrual hygiene: how to save money, conserve water, and reduce violence with a Ruby Cup

by 24th May 2019
A young woman in Uganda displaying her Ruby Cup storage bag A young woman in Uganda displaying her Ruby Cup storage bag

Complete this sentence, “Today, I’m worried about where I will get the money to buy _________.” What filled in the blank for you? A car? A meal? If you’re a refugee woman in Uganda, one answer is likely to be sanitary pads.

For refugee women in Uganda, the inability to manage menstruation is putting them at risk of violence and preventing them from going to school, accessing their food rations, or leaving their house.

Unlike a lot of the complex problems CARE handles, this one is relatively easy to solve. In fact, the Ruby Cup pilot test in Impevi, Uganda, showed how much change is possible by providing one simple tool, a little training for women, and some education for men.

Here’s what one woman had to say about the project’s impact on her life: “Since the project started I now feel comfortable because when I use the cup, instead of thinking where I’m going to get money to buy pads, I am using the cup and the cup is really helping me.”

CARE partnered with Womena and Oxfam to pilot Ruby Cups with refugee women using ECHO funding. What did we learn?

It really works

  • Women are satisfied: 94% of women in the pilot were satisfied with the cup, and 84% have adopted it long term.
  • Women save money: Women can save $277 using the Ruby Cup for its lifespan of 10 years. That’s 53 cents a week — enough to buy 2 shares in a VSLA. It’s not just women who save either. In a protracted crisis, this tool saves responders money on hygiene kits, and puts women back in control.
  • Women use less water: Women use 15 litres of water a day washing a disposable pad. That’s the entire water ration available to them under minimum SPHERE standards in a refugee response. With the Ruby Cup, women only use 1 litre of water a month.
  • Women are more mobile: Since they’re not trapped by the possibility of period stains — boys in school actively shame girls and drive them away if they can tell they are menstruating — women are able to go out and take care of other needs. This might mean going to school, going to pick up food rations, or starting a business to earn some money.
  • Violence is going down: Women report less violence and harassment while they are menstruating. According to some women, having the cup means they don’t have to sell sex to get the money to buy pads: “I will just accept that person so that person will buy me [disposable pads] … whenever these men give things to you they want those things to be paid back, or it may be sexually.”

How we got there

  • Put women in charge: The project consistently asked women how the pilot was going, and what support they needed. This focus on the people using the product helped tailor trainings and follow-up activities so it was more useful.
  • Learn from other projects: CARE connected to this pilot because women in CARE’s GBV programmes consistently cited issues around menstruation as a cause of violence in their lives. We built from that learning to include this pilot in our refugee response.
  • Start small, learn fast, and grow: The pilot started with 80 women over 3 months. The results were so successful that we’re using them to advocate for more funding to spread the approach.
  • Get men involved: The project worked with men and boys to explain what the cup was, and why women were using it. They also did education around menstruation to lower taboos so families could communicate about what’s going on, and women have more freedom.

Want to learn more?

Check out the pilot project evaluation.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.