The BBC named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world two years ago after calling out the President of the World Health Organization on social media.
At just 24 and fresh out of college, Vivi Lin has become a leading figure in the fight against menstrual injustice and stigma in Taiwan.
Even today, many people still find it difficult to use the phrase “getting on their period.” That’s part of the problem, she says. When I got my first period I didn’t even know what it was! I could see that my mother was uncomfortable and didn’t want to talk to me about it too much.
Vivi Lin founded the non-profit organization With Red three years ago to combat these problems. With Red opened a museum dedicated to menstruation and all things period earlier this year. Workshops are offered there. Young girls and grandparents unashamedly participate to demystify the issue.
With Red officials even went to cleanse a temple on May 28, International Menstrual Health Day. They also created a lucky charm with temple officials to break taboos.
Many people don’t believe that menstruating women can go to the temple to pray or even participate in religious activities, Vivi Lin explains. Pharmacies even give those who buy pads a paper bag to hide them.
Changing people’s perceptions and getting them to speak freely about it is a long-term task. With Red also offers workshops at universities. In the Taiwanese school system, the topic is often treated in a rushed manner, and in some classes only girls are given information about menstruation.
By working in a group I can change the perception of this natural phenomenon. We also work with various governments to combat menstrual inequalities. The aim is that this museum no longer serves to educate people, but that they can testify to what we have achieved.
Vivi Lin, pioneer of women’s menstrual justice rights in Asia
Photo: Radio Canada / Philippe Leblanc
Promote menstrual fairness
Because the young founder of With Red is passionate about menstrual justice, or promoting access to feminine hygiene products for those who are less fortunate and need them most. The problem is evident in several Asian countries, particularly the poorest.
According to the With Red organization, one in ten women in Taiwan, one of the most developed and open Asian countries, does not have access to sanitary products when they need them.
It’s primarily a problem of poverty, says Ruby Huang, who teaches Rules: Theories, Thoughts and Actions at National Taiwan University.
When you live below the poverty line, you need to prioritize your family expenses even more, she says. Of course, accommodation and food have top priority. In many cases, feminine hygiene products are at the bottom of the list.
Chronic depression and health problems can stem from this lack of access to pads and tampons. With Red encourages the Taiwanese government to provide such products in restrooms in certain public places.
In many Asian countries, many women suffer from menstrual stigma for religious or cultural reasons and struggle to access products essential to their health. To break this isolation, a young Taiwanese woman founded a museum to promote menstrual health. Report by Philippe Leblanc.
A global problem
The problem is not only observed in Asia or in poor countries, it is present all over the world.
In Ottawa, the last Trudeau budget tackled it. As part of a two-year pilot, the Canadian government will allocate $25 million to address menstrual inequality in Canada. Scotland has just announced it will provide free tampons and pads to all women and girls who need them.
According to Vivi Lin, it’s the elephant in the room. Menstrual inequalities exist all over the world, but little is talked about. The fact that we don’t talk about it makes the problem invisible. You need to start by not being afraid to talk about menstruation.
In the room on the second floor of the Mit-Rot-Museum, painted red and pink, a couple of young girls between the ages of 8 and 11 are learning how to use sanitary napkins. They are all accompanied by their parents.
Little Ariel, 9, sits at the back and is excited to be able to lift the veil of menstruation with her mother in this workshop. She learns how to use feminine hygiene products and calculate the timing of menstruation.
Nine-year-old Ariel with her mother at a With Red workshop.
Photo: Radio Canada / Philippe Leblanc
I won’t be ashamed to talk about it when my period comes. I hope more young girls will feel this way. We heard today that a lot of girls are embarrassed. You don’t have to.
10-year-old twins Dora and Sophie came with their father. They have the opportunity to study together and share their experiences at home. Their father wanted to be with them.
Men, too, need to know more to dare to speak up, believes David Yeh. My daughters are about to hit puberty and have learned a lot of useful things today to deal with it.
Breaking taboos is just the first step in solving menstrual inequality.
Our Asia correspondent, Philippe Leblanc, will be based in Taiwan over the next few months to introduce us to this island of almost 24 million people, its society and the challenges that animate it. And also to cover topical issues across the Asia Pacific region.