Mar. 24 2020
This week at Newsette HQ, we’re taking a page from Mr. Rogers, who famously said, “When I would see scary news as a child, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers.” Well, we found one: Nadya Okamoto, a 21-year old advocate who’s waging war against the pink tax. While studying at Harvard University, Nadya also runs PERIOD, a human rights group fighting to end period poverty and stigma. “I’m super-passionate about gender equality and youth activism,” says the Oregon native, who wrote Period Power: A Manifesto For The Menstrual Movement as a wake-up call for young people to demand equal rights worldwide. And even when she’s working (and taking her college midterms) from home, Nadya’s efforts are making a global impact. Here’s how she does it…
You’re fighting against “period poverty.” What does that mean?
Not having access to hygiene products due to lack of income. When I started PERIOD, I learned that it’s a leading cause of [school] absenteeism, and at the time, 40 states in the U.S. had a sales tax [or “pink tax”] on period products. Tampons and pads were considered “non-essential goods” by the government!
When did you first get interested in period activism?
I was inspired after hearing the stories from homeless women about using toilet paper, socks, and brown paper grocery bags or even cardboard to take care of their periods. I think it was just like a really big privilege check. At that time, my family was actually experiencing housing instability as well… That really drove me to start taking action.
How did you get the idea off the ground? What were the first steps you took?
The early days were a lot of hustling, a lot of Googling, and a lot of constantly feeling like I did not know what I was doing. I think one of the biggest struggles for us was fundraising… because we were 16, and it’s hard to fundraise and convince people that they should believe in you when you’re young.
How do you get someone to take you seriously, especially when you’re young?
Every time someone doubted me, I was just that much more driven to keep going. And I think that support happened over time. People can’t really question us anymore because we can say, “Look at what we’ve done. We’ve served over 950,000 periods and we have hundreds of activist chapters registered.” We have the metrics to back it up.
What’s one thing you wish people understood about your mission?
Periods aren’t just a women’s issue. They are a human issue. When periods are a major obstacle for girls achieving success in education and economic mobility, that influences all of society and all of us.