Interview: Nadya Okamoto

Below is an interview with Nadya Okamoto, founder of PERIOD Movement. This organization was founded in 2014 on the basis that menstrual care is a basic right. Their mission is to celebrate periods and provide products to those in need.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are now

When I was 16 years old, as a junior in high school, 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 mine. This experience influenced me to learn more about menstrual inequity and period poverty after collecting an anthology of stories about their use of toilet paper, socks, brown paper bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so natural. I wanted to help, so eventually I founded PERIOD.

2. How and why was period movement started?

My original goal for PERIOD was to have some sort of mobile service that distributed menstrual hygiene products to people who might need them. Even in 2014, people and mainstream media were still just getting used to a more open conversation about menstruation and period products. So, calling the organization “PERIOD” even a few years ago felt like a bit of a stretch, and I knew that we would get a few doors closed in our faces. Calling our organization “Camions of Care” (“camion” is another word for truck, or caravan) was a subtle way of drawing attention before starting to discuss periods in a bold manner. Later on, we chose PERIOD because we wanted to break the taboo around menstruation and get people talking about it. If we didn’t do this, who would? It had to start with us.

3. Can you briefly describe the shame against periods?

This sense of shame is ingrained in us from a very young age. Periods have been considered a women’s issue and are often considered taboo, dirty, and something that should only be discussed quietly among women.

4. Why do you think periods are an important concept on which to take a stand?

Menstrual equity is a matter of basic human rights and dignity. It keeps girls from going to school, not only in developing countries, but right here in the United States. People don’t talk about periods - thus people don’t know/think about period poverty and the lack of access to menstrual hygiene for so many people. They don’t know how these things impact menstruators every single day. That is why so much of the work that we do starts with simply encouraging people to be comfortable talking about periods, and spreading the awareness that period poverty is a large issue that is holding so much potential back.

5. Periods are not only shamed, they’re condescended as a really gross fact of nature. Why do you think periods face that problem instead of other natural bodily functions?

Because periods have seen as a women’s issue for so long, rather than a human issue. They are something girls whisper to their friends about, and sometimes we aren’t even comfortable with other women speaking openly about our periods. This idea that periods are associated only with women also excludes those who menstruate but don’t identify as women. It is a cycle of shame and silence that has resulted in an extremely pervasive stigma that prevents those in need from asking for help.

6. As you know, anyone who was born biologically female can menstruate. What kind of work are you doing to support trans men or non-binary folk?

We always work to be as gender-inclusive as possible with our language and all of our advocacy work, and we’re hoping to do more active work around gender inclusivity moving into the new year starting with PERIOD CON 2019. Every menstruator deserves the same menstrual care.

7. Can you explain the difference in period stigma for cisgender women vs. anyone else?

Imagine having to talk about period experience when you do not identify as a woman. Menstruation is so tied to womanhood in society, especially globally - but we must strive to be more inclusive. Not all menstruators are women. Some are trans or nonbinary, but were assigned female at birth and may still experience their periods. It is crucial that people recognize all menstruators regardless of gender identity. Cisgender people, especially men, probably feel as if they’d be intruding when mentioning menstruation to a non-binary person or trans person. We as humans must resolve this and become more comfortable speaking about this while still respecting gender identity.

8. What products or services related to menstruation would you like to see implemented in the next few years?

I would love to see period products being provided in all school restrooms for menstruating students, the end period poverty in school, and the repealment of the tampon tax in the 35 states where it still exists, at least to start.

9. How can someone get involved in your period parties or period chapters? What are they?

To start a chapter, check out our website at period.org or reach out to info@period.org to get involved even further. We welcome all to join us at PERIOD CON 2019 as well - https://www.period.org/periodcon. I have also published a book (Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement), if you’d like to give it a read! It’s available on Amazon.