The Homegirl Project chatted with Nadya Okamoto about the need for menstrual equality, her nonprofit, PERIOD, and what energizes her to change the world each day.
interview by Lu Lu
LL: You were nearly homeless for a period of time. How did you turn that experience into motivation for your activism?
NO: While I wasn’t homeless myself, housing instability gave me the opportunity to
meet women in much worse living situations than I was in, and gave me a new
understanding of housing instability which grew my empathy for those
experiencing homelessness. During this period of housing instability, I would
commute to school on the public bus. This gave me the opportunity to meet and
speak with homeless women in much worse living situations than I was in. In our
conversations, I collected an anthology of stories about using toilet paper, socks,
brown paper grocery bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so
natural. I was inspired by the stories that I heard, and learning about the issue of
menstrual inequities is what fueled my drive to start the organization now called
PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement. collected their stories and struggles and
when my family was back on its feet, I took action. Hearing the stories of these
women who were in much worse living situations than I was in pushed me to
realize that even in times when my family was facing adversity, I was still
extremely blessed. I never had to worry about access to period products, I had my
family around me, and I was still in school.
LL: What are some challenges you’ve overcome in starting and managing this movement, running for office in Cambridge, and other engagements?
NO: The most difficult and also most important challenges is finding time to focus on
mental health. Things can get very busy, but it’s important not to use busy as an
excuse to neglect self care. I really had to work on this and learn how to manage
my time with commitments, goals, and also listening to my body and mind and
giving them what they need. This can be as simple as making sure you’re getting
enough sleep. Give your body regular, nutritious meals and schedule in time for
self care, like working out.
LL: Other than menstrual care for women, what do you want to change about society/the world the most?
NO: The menstrual movement isn’t just about periods. It is a vital step in movement
towards gender equality and equity. Access to menstrual hygiene management is
integral in supporting menstruators all around the globe. 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. People are embarrassed and
grossed out by their own periods - this stigma negatively impacts young people’s
self image and confidence. It is so much bigger than periods.
LL: What do you think is the most important lesson for young girls out there? What do you have to say to them?
NO: I talk about this in my book- it is so important to empower young girls and make
sure they know they are not alone. You are capable and your voice needs to be
heard. If you want to do something, take action! Follow your passion and find
your why. Ask questions, find a mentor, find a community, and if you can’t find it
- build it.