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Let’s Talk Periods
We sat down with Nadya Okamoto, the founder of PERIOD, the largest youth run NGO in women’s health
Restless Magazine sat down with Nadya Okamoto, Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org), an organization she founded at the age of 16. PERIOD is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health and is quickly growing a movement to end period poverty. Since 2014, PERIOD has addressed over 900,000 periods. In 2017, Nadya ran for office in Cambridge, MA. While she didn’t win, her campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at polls. Nadya recently published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. A true multi-hyphenate, Nadya is also the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. Most recently, she was included in InStyle Magazine’s “The Badass 50” list, along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Read on to find out more about this woman on a mission.
You started PERIOD when you were only 16, did you receive any pushback given your age and the stigmatized topic? If so, how did you overcome it?
Starting an organization focused on periods was definitely difficult. I was met with a lot of giggles and scepticism and I still am. This is why education and advocacy are so important in the menstrual movement. However, at the same time, that sort of pushback was motivating for me because it showed me that we still had so much work to do, and what I was doing with wanting to destigmatize periods was needed. We have to break the stigma and teach people about why menstrual equity is so important.
As for my age, I think that the biggest challenge that we faced was trying to gain the confidence that Vince and I could tackle this issue, even without professional experience or resources behind us. We were going to embrace the challenge of starting a nonprofit at 16, and use whatever networks and tools for support we had right in front of us. We started off just googling things like “what is a nonprofit?” and “what is the IRS?”. We had to learn as we grew, and embrace every opportunity to be humble and fearless about asking questions.
What do you wish more people knew about being homeless?
There are so many different degrees of homelessness. There is a picture that comes to everyone’s mind when you say the word “homeless” of someone living and sleeping on the street, but this isn’t the case for everyone who falls under the category of homeless. Being homeless can also mean living out of your car, or staying with friends, or couch-surfing. When we fail to recognize the varying degrees of homelessness and displacement, we also fail to address access to menstrual products to a major group of people.
What advice would you give to other women who want to do something to make change in the world?
You really have to go for it. If there is something you want to do, do it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have the resources. Find your people, find a mentor, and ask questions!
Has Trump’s election affected the difficulty of pushing the movement forward at all? If so, how?
I actually think the election of Trump made pushing the movement forward easier in a way because it made people angry enough to stop being apathetic. There are so many amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past few years who are new to the menstrual and gender equality movement, but they got involved with PERIOD after the 2016 election because it was a way for them to make real change in their communities.
It seems like every day there’s another negative headline, in the midst of all of today’s noise, how do you make sure that your mission is heard?
We use each negative headline to drive our mission further. For example, when we heard about the conditions in the detention centers at the US Mexico border, we immediately got to researching networks down there, made the arrangements to ship products, and secured donations within a few days. We also stay heard because the call for menstrual equity is something that so many people can connect to – more than half the population has a period, and when we can make the clear link from menstrual equity to gender equity, we help people understand that this is a solvable issue that will pave the way to future wins for gender equality.
Tell us more about what you want educators to refocus on when they educate their students on periods.
Educators need to realize that periods alone – like the basic “what is a period” – is not enough. Students need to be taught about period pain, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and more. This is actually why we have our PERIOD TALK program – we’re trying to change the way people think, talk, and learn about periods through digital content and medically accurate and comprehensive curriculum.
You ran for office, and your organization is the largest youth run NGO in women’s health, these are amazing accomplishments and huge tasks. Tell us about what drives you to do so much, and how you handle the stress that can come with it.
I have had to learn the hard way how important self care is! You have to listen to your body and make sure you are doing the simple things like getting enough sleep and eating good food. Personally, I have found that I feel my best when I’m making time to get a workout in!
You’ve mentioned the importance of talking to a diverse array of people about periods, including situations where you’ve been in male dominated and corporate settings. How did you find it best to start these difficult conversations with a demographic that wasn’t necessarily interested? What advice would you give to other women who find themselves in similar situations?
This is not just a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue. This is a gender equality issue. If we stop framing it as just a women’s issue, we can start a more open conversation and make sure we are being inclusive in our activism. After all, not all women menstruate and not all menstruators are women!
You’ve opened up a lot about past trauma, how did you know that it was the healthy choice for you – and was it a difficult step to take?
For me, I just recognize that a lot of what i have been through is unfortunately much too common – and i really believe that if we start an open dialogue about it…maybe other people will share their stories and we can start pushing for more widespread change to prevent other people from having to face the same things, or at least knowing that there is available support out there.
For those not in the know – talk us through the two policy changes PERIOD is striving to make, and why it’s so important that people do something about it.
The first is that we want freely accessible period products in schools, shelters, and prisons. we believe that these products should be just as available as toilet paper is. if you walked into a restroom and there was no toilet paper, you’d be pretty pissed. But, menstruation is just as natural! And periods can come just as unexpectedly, why shouldn’t they be just as available?
We also want an end to the tampon tax because menstrual hygiene should be treated as a right, and not a luxury.
Tell us about national period day and the nation-wide rally you’re planning on October 19th.
This is part of a year long campaign to nationally elevate the issue of period poverty with clear policy demands for freely accessible period products in schools, shelters, and prisons, and to eliminate the tampon tax in the remaining 35 states. On October 19, 2019, the very first National Period Day, PERIOD will mobilize rallies in all 50 states and major cities — all organized by young leaders in their communities. The campaign also includes a celebrity PSA, influencer marketing on social platforms, national collection drive for period products, and lobby days in early 2020.
find out more at nationalperiodday.com
What can people do to help PERIOD in it’s mission?
Come out and support! spread the word about @periodmovement and join us with amplifying #nationalperiodday. You can donate at period.org and even join our coalition! (period.org/coalition)
Want to get involved? Email firstname.lastname@example.org