Menstrual Movement Leader Speaks at C.U. About Fighting Period Inequality

Nadya Okamoto, the leader of a movement that aims to increase menstruation resources for women living in poverty, spoke about her organization’s work to promote menstrual hygiene at a talk on Monday evening in Willard Straight Hall.

Okamoto is a current Harvard sophomore and the national founder of PERIOD, a non-profit organization that she said “provides and celebrates menstrual hygiene through service, education and policy.” The Cornell chapter of PERIOD invited Okamoto to speak at the University.

In a passionate and vivid narrative, Okamoto recounted her experience of founding and leading this organization. She said her personal hardships, such as being legally homeless when her mother lost her job, influenced her to become involved in her local community.

At the age of 16, she said she developed “this sort of fascination with the intersection of being a woman and being in poverty” and reached out to underprivileged homeless women in shelters in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

As a result of this, she found out that it was very problematic how “periods are actually the number one reason why girls drop out of schools in developing nations” and that “[though a] period is completely natural, it’s still something that we inherently feel we have to hide it and feel ashamed about.”

At the same time that she was thinking about how to alleviate the issue of menstrual inequality, Okamoto also found herself “in a really abusive relationship where [she] was experiencing sexual assault and physical assault pretty regularly.”

This further inspired her to take action, and she said that devoting energy to helping underprivileged women allowed her to rediscover purpose and direction in life.

She collaborated with her then-high school classmate, Vincent Forand, to turn the ideas into realities.

Capitalizing on the power of social media, the team connected with interested young people across the country. To increase momentum and accelerate the menstrual movement, the team created guides for starting new chapters that outlined steps people can take in their own local communities to make a difference.

While some chapters have already passed policies on campuses or in local municipalities, Okamoto hopes to “mobilize around state legislature, and [to] continue to appeal the sales taxes on tampons in states in which they currently exist.”

Okamoto said her organization is the biggest youth-run non-governmental organization globally and “the fastest growing one” in the country.

Emily Wang, the president of the Cornell chapter of PERIOD, hoped this event would inspire meaningful conversations and raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and inequality within the Cornell community.

By Winny Sun