This Student Entrepreneur Is Getting People Talking About Menstrual Stigma. Here's How
It’s a sad reflection on any society that it should make women and girls feels ashamed and excluded for possessing female biology. Fortunately, when it comes to countering those attitudes, Vivi Lin is on the case. Through Little Red Hood, the advocacy organisation she founded and runs, the Taiwanese university student is addressing menstrual stigma and the period poverty that can accompany it, by both educating people about periods and providing much needed menstrual products to girls who struggle to access them.
“I started to be aware of the issue through stigma, when I was 13 or 14 and had my first period,” she says. “I got confused when my mum tried really hard to speak to me about it, but couldn’t use the word ‘period’. It was very weird to me—I knew my mum has them, my grandma used to have them and my teachers have them, but none of them could speak the word. I wanted to find out the reasons behind these things that make them feel embarrassed.”
A student at Edinburgh University, although currently unable to attend classes in the Scottish capital, she is also the president of the Edinburgh branch of Students for Global Health. Among her other achievements, she has worked a columnist for several leading Taiwanese publications; set up and for two years run educational foundation BEGIN, teaching kids design thinking in rural areas of Taiwan; worked as a medical volunteer in Lesotho and Tanzania on several occasions; chaired the United Nations Human Rights Council at Nanking International Model United Nations Conference; worked as a fundraising manager for educational charity Dreams Givers; and much else besides.
It was her time as a pupil at United World College Maastricht in the Netherlands, though, that she found most transformative. There she volunteered at the Knooppunt Community Centre, which tries to help refugees integrate into society and counter prejudice against them. One of its services concerned menstrual products.
“I started realising that period poverty was a thing,” she says. “Then, when I went to Tanzania and Lesotho, I realised that it was also a big issue for them to access these products. When I went to Scotland, I got involved in movements to eliminate period poverty; one in five girls in Scotland suffer with period poverty, which was very shocking but very inspiring for me. I realised it was possible to solve this issue.
“I asked myself: ‘Is there also period poverty in Taiwan?’ I realised there were no statistics to show whether period poverty existed in Taiwan, and not a lot of discussion. That was the moment when I founded Little Red Hood. We called organisations that serve the community and asked: ‘Are the kids you serve experiencing this problem?’ Their answer was: ‘We’ve never thought about this.’ I realised that a lot of kids had been suffering for a long time but couldn’t speak about it; they felt they needed to sort it out themselves.”
Her response was two-pronged. The organisation currently provides 200 girls and women aged 10 to 18 with menstrual products, along with education about how to use them; most of the recipients come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including a number living in shelters after experiencing domestic violence.
It also uses education to fight stigma, including courses for children and young adults from primary school to university age, as well as sessions for parents and their children together, and advocacy work with corporations – what Lin calls “small things that can make a huge difference. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but a lot of corporations are willing to take small steps towards gender equality. We’re trying to make staff aware how they can make the environment more comfortable for people to talk to you about periods.”
The organisation has also had some success working alongside the public sector, for instance with the city governments of Taipei and Tainan, Taiwan’s sixth biggest city, to provide education and free products. “We’re very grateful that there are a lot of younger and more open-minded people in government,” she says. “There’s more awareness of the diverse needs of different genders.”
She still sometimes encounters the same issues that inspired her to address these issues in the first place, though. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable saying the word—it’s something they’re ashamed of. But ask them why, and they can’t give you a reason. I realised that when you talk to kids, you need to use a very natural and positive attitude with them, so they’ll think: ‘Oh, this is natural, so I don’t need to be ashamed any more.”
Little Red Hood also focuses on encouraging more men and boys to engage. “We have a lot of fathers saying that they want to know more but have never had a chance to join this conversation,” she says. “The best way of solving this problem is if people feel they can talk about it freely.”
See more honourees from the Gen.T List 2021.