“In this work, we realize that we can’t change policy until we change culture,” said Nadya Okamoto, the founder and executive director of PERIOD.
Okamoto started the Menstrual Movement when she was just 16. Now, at 21, she’s even more passionate about the organization she runs.
“We’re distributing period products to people in need,” she said. “We’re trying to change the way people think and talk about periods and we’re now passing policy actively from the local to the national level.”
They’re getting period products into schools and trying to take down the reigning tampon tax in the remaining 35 states. To do all of this, she’s mobilizing young people.
As of now, the movement has addressed more than 800,000 periods through distributing products — with more than 500 local PERIOD chapters in all 50 states and 30 countries worldwide.
Currently, they’re getting ready to send a big shipment of products to Southern border states and Mexico — after women and girls in camps and shelters were forced to bleed through their clothes, or given one pad a day.
“[I’m] actually inspired by hearing stories from homeless women who were in much worse situations than I was in and hearing their stories of using toilet paper, socks and brown paper grocery bags and cardboard to take care of their periods,” she said.
Okamoto started this movement after learning about the tampon tax which puts a sales tax on period products, considering them “luxury items.”
“Meanwhile products like Rogaine, Viagra and penile pumps — which I had to look up what those were — are all essential goods, so they weren’t taxed as luxuries.”
Thirty-five US States still have a sales tax on period products considering them non-essential items. One in 4 women struggles to afford period products due to a lack of income.
In the first city-wide study on period poverty, it was found that 46% of low-income women had to choose between a meal and period products.
Because of the period stigma that makes menstruation a taboo topic, we don’t often think about what it’s like for a homeless or low-income menstruator to get their period and don’t have open conversations about period health or solutions to period poverty.
Okamoto came to Portland Thursday for the “State of the Period,” their annual fundraiser. People came together to support, create new goals and share accomplishments.
“We have passed 12 pieces of legislation in our own network at the district and state level,” she said. “Policy is a big focus for me because first of all, its how we make a long-term systemic change — and change the system itself.”
She’s now hopping on a plane to get back to Harvard and finish up her studies after taking a year off to write her book called Period Power: a Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement.
The organization is gearing up again for October 19’s National Period Day — the first-ever day of its kind — as there will be rallies in all 50 states.
Okamoto told KOIN 6 News that period poverty is neglected because people don’t think about it enough — but she and PERIOD are encouraging people to embrace menstruation like never before.