Nadya Okamoto was only 16 when she founded PERIOD, a nonprofit, youth-oriented organization dedicated to social change for menstrual equity. Now, the 20-year-old Harvard undergrad is looking to take things to the next step — by making PERIOD a global movement and a key component of the fight for gender equality.
Okamoto talked to Convene via email about the origins of PERIOD, the goals of the Menstrual Movement, and how she’ll tie that into the events industry in Pittsburgh.
Can you talk about your background and how that led to PERIOD?
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 other items, to take care of something so natural.
Thirty-six U.S. 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 No. 1 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.
Philanthropy plays an important role in your organization. Could you elaborate on that?
PERIOD is a global, youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through service, education, and advocacy — through the global distribution of period products to those in need, and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last two years, we have addressed over 350,000 periods and we have registered over 200 campus chapters at universities and high schools around the United States. We are now working to mobilize young leaders across the U.S. to catalyze systemic change towards menstrual equity from their campuses to local and statewide policy.
Can you think of ways your work relates to the business-events community?
Business events are an incredible opportunity to gather people together with similar interests or shared missions, and discussions about workplace support for inclusivity happens often in these spaces as well. There is a huge opportunity to start conversations about fostering period-positive communities at these events. PERIOD also partners with businesses often on charitable initiatives and volunteer events.
With Gen Z, we’re more and more obsessed with the digital world and social media — but I think that makes events and in-person gatherings, especially with social movements, that much more impactful.
What’s coming up next for PERIOD?
My long-term goal is for PERIOD to continue leading the Menstrual Movement on a global level in the three pillars of direct service, social change, and systemic change. I truly hope to also maintain that this movement is youth-led and powered. I hope that we can act as a thought-leader in what this movement is — and I am hopeful about this, especially since my first book is coming out this month — Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, published by Simon & Schuster.
I hope that this movement can be so widespread that it is known as a key component of the general fight for gender equality — period products should be accessible for all, never treated as luxury items, provided for free in schools, shelters, prisons, and workplaces, and we should have open dialogue for people to talk about their experience with menstruation, too. Our work stems from the fundamental belief that it is a human right to be able to discover and reach your full potential, regardless of a natural need — and we will continue.
We will continue to work on expanding and strengthening our chapter network in terms of the impact the chapters are making, continue to work with brands and partners to mobilize via social media and awareness campaigns, engage global audiences in activations like global conferences (our next one is this December), and think about how we can plan for systemic change toward menstrual equity.
I’m on a gap year from Harvard right now to keep growing PERIOD, my book is coming out, and I am getting ready to announce that I have stepped into the role of chief brand officer of Juv Consulting, a Gen Z marketing and consulting agency.
Learn more about PERIOD at period.org.