The other day I scrolled through the Makers website, looking for some new inspiration. While going through the powerful stories of other women, my attention kept on one explicit video by a young, and very ambitious woman: Nadya Okamoto. We've talked about her book Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, how she keeps the balance between work and private life and starting an NGO at the age of 16. Read below.
1) Hi Nadya, tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
I grew up in Portland, OR, and I'm a 20-year-old Harvard student on a leave of absence. I am the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org), an organization I founded at the age of 16. PERIOD is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health, and one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States. Since 2014 we have addressed over 400,000 periods and registered over 230 campus chapters. In 2017, I ran for office in Cambridge, MA. While I did not win, my campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at polls. I recently published my 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. Most recently, I became the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. I was also named to InStyle Magazine’s “The Badass 50: Meet the Women Who Are Changing the World” list, along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
2) When you started Period Movement, you've been 16 years old. How did you come up with the idea to end period poverty and the stigma around it at such a young age?
I founded PERIOD as a junior in high school, after my family experienced living without a home of our own for several months. During this time, on my commute to school on the public bus, I had many conversations with homeless women in much worse living situations than I was in. I was inspired to learn more about menstrual inequity and period poverty after collecting an anthology of stories of their using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so natural. Via google searches, I learned about the barrier that menstruation has for girls in school around the globe (they are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries), about the effects for disadvantaged menstruators here in the US, and the systemic barriers to proper menstrual health management.
It’s 2019, and yet, 34 US states still have a sales tax on period products because they are considered luxury items (unlike Rogaine and Viagra), period-related pain is a leading cause of absenteeism amongst girls in school, and periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries. Over half of our global population menstruates for an average of 40 years of their life on a monthly basis, and has been doing so since the beginning of humankind. It’s about time we take action.
3) So, what is your new book "Period Power" all about?
Period Power aims to explain what menstruation is, discuss the stigmas and resulting biases, and create a strategy to end the silence and prompt conversation about periods. It covers everything from what is happening biologically, to historical information about period products, and the political environment around menstruation.
Things are changing. Conversations surrounding the tampon tax, period poverty, and menstrual equity are no longer taboo. The next generation can and will change the silence and status quo around menstruation and gender equality. My book is a call to action for today’s youth to become tomorrow’s change makers.
I wanted to write a book to show that this movement was REAL and has a larger vision for social and systemic change -- we have an agenda, and real info and thoughts behind why we’re doing this.
4) In Germany, we tax tampons with 19%, more than China, UK and several other countries. How do you perceive the current situation on the period movement on a global scale?
We have to address period poverty and ensure equitable access to menstrual hygiene products on our way to achieving gender equality. The United Nations and the World Health organization's of the world define gender equality in terms of education, healthcare, economic mobility and representation and politics and decision-making. A lack of access to period products is a huge barrier for success in education, health care and economic mobility.
This is not just about making yourself and the people immediately around you more comfortable talking about periods. It is about breaking down this cultural stigma so that we, as a global society, can talk about solutions to issues of period poverty. It is absolutely necessary to address this in our overall fight towards gender equality.
Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products is obviously an issue from a physical health point of view, but it is also extremely difficult from a psychological point of view. Girls’ self esteem drops dramatically when they hit puberty. As we work towards a more inclusive and equitable society, we have to address access to menstrual hygiene management. It impacts every aspect of a menstruators life.
Accomplishing menstrual equity is a key step in achieving gender equality. In order for us to accomplish this, we need to make sure that menstruators have the resources they need to feel clean, confident, and capable one hundred percent of the time regardless of a natural need.
5) Getting to the stigma around menstruation: why do you think the shame around menstruation is still so strongly existent in our society? And what can each and everyone of us actively do in order to break this stigma?
Periods are considered something that people should not talk about publicly, and throughout history, have been associated with a sense of shame and silence. We whisper the word period and hide tampons in our sleeves, but menstruation is a normal and natural biological function and should be treated as such. It isn’t weird or scary, and it isn’t something we should be ashamed of in any way.
Our goal within the menstrual movement is to fightback and break the stigma around period products and encourage people to talk about periods. Menstruation is largely viewed as a women’s issue, when in reality it should be considered a human issue.
The easiest way to join the menstrual movement is by joining the conversation. Everyone can make a difference simply by talking about periods! If you are looking for more ways to get involved, check out our website here: https://www.period.org/get-involved
6) Next of being an author, and founder of Period Movement, you're studying at Harvard, giving dance classes and you're Chief Brand Officer at Juv Consulting, how do manage your time and energy?
It is all about balance and listening to your body. You have to make time for self care, whatever that means for you! I try to always give myself time to go to the gym and workout, or take a yoga class -- something active every day. I feel more ready to get to work and focus when my physical body feels in shape.
7) And last but not least: which empowering advice would you give to a girl out there?
You are strong, you are capable, and you are not alone! 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!
Text by Bernak Kharabi
Preview Image Credit: Heather Hazzan / Image #1: Hakeem Angulu