INTERVIEW WITH NADYA OKAMOTO OF PERIOD. THE MENSTRUAL MOVEMENT

Tuesday, January 9, 2018
photo by: Sydney Claire Photography

Good Morning loves! 
During my time at the Teen Vogue Summit, I got the chance to meet some seriously incredible people. I made so many connections and am so incredibly grateful for that. One of the fabulous women I met was Nadya Okamoto. Today I'm sharing with you an interview I had with Nadya, the spectacularly strong, inspiring and empowering founder of Period, The Menstrual Movement. It's a must read... 

Nadya! You are an absolutely incredible woman, I’m endlessly inspired by all that you do and have done thus far just at the age of nineteen, that’s right y’all… NINETEEN! Just for some background for the readers, could you talk a little bit about yourself? What are some of your interests, favorite color, food, fun facts about you, anything! Let us get to know ya! Hi, I’m Nadya Okamoto I am nineteen years old and a sophomore at Harvard College I am the founder and executive director at Period the Menstrual Movement. Thank you so much for your kind words it really means a lot to me! Talk a little bit about me… Let’s see, in my spare time I love to dance, I’m on the competitive hip hop team at Harvard, it’s my favorite thing to do at school. My favorite color is red… duh. Red or purple, red is more bold and badass to me though. I love mac and cheese and Indian food, not together! But I love them separately. I have two younger sisters and a single mom and they are my everything.


Let’s talk about periods. You founded The Period Menstrual Movement back in 2014. What prompted the start of your organization? I founded Period the Menstrual Movement in December of 2014. My passion for periods comes from a really personal place, I founded it after my family experienced living without a home of our own. It was a monumental experience for me to regularly talk to homeless women who were in much worse living situations than I was during a time when my family was kind of really experiencing financial and housing instability. These were homeless woman that I would see regularly on my two hour commute to school on public transportation. I would talk to them and collect an anthology of hearing how they’d use toilet paper, socks, brown paper bags, and even cardboard to absorb their menstrual blood and I became obsessed with it. I started doing research on my own time. I had a hard time going to sleep at that time from PTSD of growing up with domestic abuse, and I was in a really abusive relationship when I was sixteen, so to distract myself I would just research. I learned that Periods are the number one reason that girls miss school in developing countries. It leads to girls dropping out of school, getting married early, under going social isolation. I think it was a combination of becoming so passionate about this and angered that it wasn’t being addressed yet, and that on a personal level I was really searching for a way to speak up, and get involved, and feel my self-worth from something beyond my body as a young girl. As soon as my family got our apartment back I was working on strategies on how to get involved and make a difference and founded Period a few weeks later. Now we are the largest youth run non-government organization in women's health, one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States, we address over 190,000 periods through product distribution, and registered over 150 campus chapters in universities and high schools around the US and abroad.  

Could you give some background on the mission of Period? We provide and celebrate menstrual health through service, education and advocacy, and through the global distribution of menstrual products to people in need by the engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. The Menstrual Movement to us is really about pushing forward social and systemic change towards menstrual equity. So fighting for equitable access to menstrual hygiene and breaking down the stigma around periods.

What have been some success stories from your experience working on Period? I think a lot of success are the numbers you hear about what we are able to do in less than three years.

How about failures? How did you learn from these and what did you do next? It’s exhausting. I’m lucky to say that we don’t have any major failures but I think that we’ve learned. We’ve learned the importance of self-care as a team because this is addicting work because we are so passionate about it and you could just drive yourself to the ground always feeling like you could be doing more. In junior year [of high school] I was hospitalized for exhaustion because I didn’t know self-care. I am always trying to push myself to be more careful about that.

Could you talk about the importance of gender equity when it comes to periods and The Period Menstrual Movement? We are actually a very gender inclusive organization so you’ll notice that I don’t say feminine hygiene I say menstrual hygiene, same thing with feminine products that kind of thing. It’s not only women who menstruate, but also people who may identify as a man and be transgender or people who are nonbianary as well. We do a lot of work around body positivity, and being comfortable with bodies, and celebrating bodies, and what our bodies do.  

The Period Menstrual Movement is a nonprofit that from what I understand relies on donations and support from others, what is the most common demographic of donors? It would be interesting to know if it’s mainly women? You’re a youth organization, are most donors young adults? Can you even tell? We rely on donations, yes, we are a nonprofit. Donors range from young to old, poor to rich… Our donations are anywhere from five dollars to larger ones from individuals and grants as well. We don’t have mainly women donating, it is pretty equal, actually our bigger donors are men which is interesting. We are a young organization but most of our donors are adults.

This past year you hosted the first ever Period Con [if this isn’t the first just say so and I’ll edit it accordingly] Could you discuss a little bit about the organization of that, the event itself and then what came of it? Last year Period Con was amazing!! It was November 18th, 2017. We were the worlds first youth activist con for menstruation which was really cool. It was basically a full day of programing, we have 130 campus chapters have reps who were coming in to talk to us about periods and the work they do, why they care about The Menstrual Movement and to learn and be empowered to go back to their communities and take what they learned to keep pushing the menstrual movement in their areas.

Now, more than ever we need to speak up and let our voices be heard through advocating if we want to see any kind of change. What is the importance in advocating about periods? A lot of what has held back our progress is just the stigma around periods and the fear of talking about it and the discomfort that comes with menstruation. SO a big part of what we do is say “period” just say “period” it’s not a bad word. Don’t be like “I’m on my *in a whispered voice* period” just say that you are, don’t be afraid to say it, break the stigma. That’s why it’s important, because those conversations are really holding us back from global development and other issues as well.

How can I get involved? You can always just go the website to learn more. We have summer and fall intern programs, we are always talking student associates, we are always looking for new staff members, and always recruiting. So you get involved by reaching out just literally emailing us. Follow me on Instagram, or don’t follow me just send me a message and tell me you’re interested! Reach out! This is a movement and we need all hands on deck.


Aside from The Period Menstrual Movement, I have one other question for you, Nadya. You ran for OFFICE! Please, speak about that. What were your experiences being a young woman stepping out of the “norm” running for office? What were some struggles, some successes, and anything else you’d like to speak on? Basically I just want to show the blogosphere just how fantastic you are, so please brag. When I was running for office I didn’t really know what to expect… It was one of the most terrifying and exhausting experience of my life, I think it was a time when I was constantly being questioned, on my abilities, on my identity, my qualifications. It was a time when I was canvasing four to six hours every day, and just trying my best on what I could tell would maybe be the right thing on Google. I had an amazing campaign team during the summer. I think what I learned is that politics is a lot more personal than political, and because you have so many people criticizing you the only thing you can do is just be unapologetically yourself. We didn’t win, but we made historic waves with the student turn out and double the student turn out at MIT, and on those campuses and that is enough for me to celebrate. Now just figuring out the ways to best channel my efforts to support the efforts of young women who are running for office now! My big thing that I am working on right now is that I am writing a book and it’s coming out fall 2018, it’s going to be a manifesto for The Menstrual Movement, and I just signed with Simon and Schuster!

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I could talk to Nadya and continue asking questions for days, but for the sake of this blog that pretty much wraps it all up! Thank you so so much Nadya for your time spent answering these questions and thank you for all that you do! Seriously guys, reach out to Nadya, speak up and be a part of this highly necessary incredible movement. What are you waiting for?