25 young people making noise for social progress

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Nadya Okamoto

There’s an infuriating and ridiculous stigma surrounding periods and a horrible lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. But Nadya Okamoto is working hard to combat it.

Back in high school, Okamoto, who now studies at Harvard, founded the organization PERIOD with her friend Vincent Forand. PERIOD is an organization of young people that distributes period products such as pads and tampons to people in need, destigmatizes menstruation, and fights for menstrual equity by trying to repeal the tampon tax and lobbying for menstrual products in public places.

For Okamoto, this was personal. On the PERIOD website, she explained that she and her family were living without their home during her freshman and sophomore years of high school and she learned from homeless women who were worse off than she was about how hard having a period was while living without a home. This made her realize that “menstrual hygiene was a right, and not a privilege.”

Okamoto has also gotten involved in politics. On the night of the 2016 presidential election, she created the #ElectionReaction series on The Huffington Post and social media. She and some other Harvard students then created the nonprofit media platform E Pluribus, which helps young people get involved in issues they care about.

Okamoto even ran for office! In 2017, Okamoto was the youngest candidate to run for the Cambridge City Council. She ran on a very progressive platform and wound up losing the race. But that’s not to say we won’t see her in office in the future!

And Okamoto’s not letting the stigma around her being a young person slow her down either.

“Our biggest challenge is fundraising, and I will be totally straight-up about the fact that we have to not only ask for funds from larger donors but we have to prove it to every single potential supporter that we can do it as young people,” she told Elle. “We have this additional obstacle; we have to prove our capabilities because we do live in an agist [sic] society where the term ‘young’ tends to define how people think of your capabilities and potential – and I hate that. The term ‘young’ and the year I was born in should not define what I am capable of doing. We still live in this world where we ask young people what they want to be when they grow up, we ask young people what they want to be in 20 years, what they are preparing for. What we are trying to do is turn that narrative around and ask the question: What do you want to be now? What do you want to be making right now? How can you take the education you are getting and use it as a complementary experience to other experiences?”