Interview by Rehana Paul
Bio: Nadya Okamoto, who grew up in Portland, OR, is 20-years-old Harvard student on a leave of absence. She is the 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 one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States. Since 2014 they have addressed over 400,000 periods and registered over 230 campus chapters. In 2017, Nadya ran for office in Cambridge, MA. While she did not 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. Most recently, Nadya has become the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. Most recently Nadya was 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.
- What inspired you to start the Period Movement?
I started PERIOD in 2014 after my family experienced a period of housing instability. During this time, I spoke with homeless women in downtown Portland and learned that they were using things like toilet paper, socks, and even cardboard in their attempts to manage their menstrual hygiene needs. Hearing the stories of these women catalyzed a perhaps unhealthy obsession with access to menstrual hygiene. I learned that periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries, and that period-related pain is the leading cause of absenteeism in the US. I learned about the “tampon tax” that, at the time, still existed in 40 states. It’s 2019, and yet, 35 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. It’s almost 2019 — 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.
- How do you block out negativity?
I block out negativity by just staying focused on the work that needs to be done. I figured out a couple years ago that if I dwell on the negativity, I will just waste time thinking about it and that only spurs more negative thoughts. The best thing I can do is just stay focused and when I come across a win, celebrate that.
3. What keeps you motivated?
I stay motivated by watching the incredible work that our chapters are doing in their local communities. The more I see what they are doing, the more I am inspired to keep fighting for this movement because we have so many incredible young people involved.
- What advice would you give to young Asian activists?
Know that you are worth it, and you deserve every opportunity that you come across.
- Have you ever personally experienced discrimination?Absolutely! Check out this article I wrote about some of those experiences:
- What are some of your day-to-day duties?Running PERIOD! Arranging my speaking schedule for a few weeks ahead, hours of emails for PERIOD partnerships, working with corporate sponsorships, building our communications and media plan.
- What’s one book you think everyone should read?My favorite book is
100 Years of Solitude, but otherwise:
PERIOD POWER! My book, 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.
- Who inspires you?
I am really inspired by my younger sisters – Ameya and Issa Okamoto. Ameya is an award winning graphic designer and artist and Issa is an opera singer and music composer.
- What is the best part about what you do?
Being able to work with incredible students all around the world via our chapter network.
- What is the worst part about what you do?Lots of pressure…I feel like a lot of people depend on me, and while I like that in many ways, it can be a constant stressor. I don’t let myself relax very much.
- What can we, as everyday Asian women, do to break down the stigma around periods in our own communities?Talk about periods as NATURAL things! Have discussions about periods. The best way to help and get involved in the menstrual movement is to TALK ABOUT PERIODS. Have the book out and in the open – talk about how period products should be a necessity. Tell people period products should be free in all restrooms and made readily available. They should be treated just like toilet paper and paper towels in terms of access.
- What are your thoughts on the model minority myth?
I think it is totally true – check out the article I wrote on it. It definitely hindered me from speaking out about it.
- What is your go-to coffee order?Regular coffee with one splenda and a big splash of cream.
- What do you think the biggest problem facing Asian women today is?The fetishization of Asian women.