It is not every day you get to sit down with a friend and fellow policy wonk working at the intersection of two things you geek out on common-sense policy and supporting girls and women. Nadya Okamoto, founded PERIOD, at the age of 16. The organization’s mission is to end period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy.
Now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health, and one of the fastest-growing ones here in the United States, PERIOD is claiming menstrual hygiene as a right, not a privilege. Since 2014, the organization has addressed over 850,000 periods through product distribution and registered over 600 campus chapters in all 50 US states and in over 30 countries. In October of last year, Nadya made history with her team by hosting the first-ever National Period Day hosting 60 rallies across all 50 states and a total of 4 countries. To get involved with their movement you can sign the manifesto and support chapters across the country.
Pushing boundaries is Nadya’s norm. In 2017, she ran for office in Cambridge, MA — becoming the youngest Asian American to run in US history. While she did not win, her campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at the polls. She also recently published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement and was named to the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 and the Bloomberg 50 “Ones to Watch” list.
I had the opportunity to chat with Nadya about pushing boundaries through a national policy campaign, the correlation between women’s rights and menstruation, using vulnerability to build a movement and being a young woman advancing gender equality across the globe.
Her Agenda: You were 16-years-old when you started Period.org, how did you find the courage to start your organization at that age?
Nadya Okamoto: Looking back on it now, I don’t think I ever really thought to myself, ok I’m building up the courage to do this. It was more like I’m so frustrated by why this is still an issue. It felt like a necessity and an obligation to act and less about my fear. The more I learned about the issue, the more my passion kicked in. How I felt wasn’t what was most important in the moment. I knew we had to do this.
Her Agenda: What does a typical day look like for you?
Nadya Okamoto: As you probably already know, there is no typical day, right? I am often traveling. I definitely always have phone calls and emails I sift through a couple of hours every day. Other than that, there really isn’t a typical day. I’m building and jumping in wherever I need to.
Her Agenda: What has been the biggest win for your organization over the past several months?
Nadya Okamoto: National Period Day! On October 19th we hosted the first-ever National Period Day where we had rallies in all 50 states and re-introduced the menstrual movement to the world. My hope is that we showed that we still have all this porosity and are not going to be backing down. It was a really incredible experience.
Her Agenda: I am a huge fan of Period Power, which you so kindly autographed for me. The book highlights all things related to menstruation. What is the reason you chose to write your first book about this topic?
Nadya Okamoto: I wanted to write about what I knew. I did think about doing something around my identity like a memoir. And then I told myself no. I knew I already had the book and it was about periods. You should write about stuff you know and I know about the menstrual movement.
Her Agenda: Every time I see you, you are on the go and juggling a billion things. How do you balance it all? Are there specific tools and/or practices that have found particularly useful?
Nadya Okamoto: Balance is still something I’m learning and working on. I think that people see me on social media or read about me and they think everything is good all the time but no, I’m still very much learning. In December I was in the hospital a couple of times because I passed out from exhaustion. I know I have a lot of work to do and I’m still learning and trying to sleep enough. I think balancing social life has been really hard because it is the first thing to go. When I get really busy my sleep and my social life go first. Something that balances me is working out, no matter what I won’t make excuses. I try to work out every single day because this is the time where I prioritize my physical health. We both know this, if you don’t feel physically healthy you will be slugging through your day. And so exercise is something I really try to do.
I try to work out every single day because this is the time where I prioritize my physical health. We both know this, if you don’t feel physically healthy you will be slugging through your day. And so exercise is something I really try to do.
Her Agenda: I’m always in awe of the level of vulnerability you demonstrate through your stories, talks, and posts. When did this become part of how you choose to show up? Was there a time you were not as vulnerable?
Nadya Okamoto: I have always been like this, honestly, from the time I started my organization. I am the type of person who processes experiences very publicly because in my mind I think it helps me reason with why I went through those experiences. When I have gone through adversity or abuse, I have always wondered to myself why did I deserve this? Why me? The first time I ever acknowledged these experiences I was often on the stage. My mom found out about my experiences while I was talking about them for the first time on a stage, which I think is very unique. I do not think this is for everybody, but for me when I process my lived experiences publicly and hear from others who share they have gone to the same thing, it gives me a reason to share. I feel strength and healing. It gives me a higher purpose.
In December I was in the hospital a couple of times because I passed out from exhaustion. I know I have a lot of work to do and I’m still learning and trying to sleep enough.
Her Agenda: What is a major challenge you have faced as a woman running more than one organization? How were you able to overcome this challenge?
Nadya Okamoto: Definitely balance. As I mentioned, I think I constantly feel overworked and sleep is definitely something that I have to work on. Though I’m working on improving and getting through that now.
Her Agenda: What would you say to a woman interested in starting their own organization or company?
Nadya Okamoto: I would say go for it and you are more than qualified! I think that something I see often with young women is this idea that you have to finish school or don’t already have the qualifications. You have to realize that if you sit there doubting yourself, that’s going to be the biggest thing standing in your way.
Her Agenda: What’s is one book that has greatly inspired your work and goals?
Nadya Okamoto: I recently reread Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I really enjoyed it because of the whole 10,000 hours rule. You have to stick to it and have dedication. Also, check your privilege and realize the privileges you have had in life.