A Call for Accountability: Anti Blackness in The Menstrual Justice Space

The murders of Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, and Dominique Fells, coupled with the dismaying events which have occurred in such a small span of months since the COVID-19 outbreak, have reverberated into all walks of Gen-Z outrage. The long upheld, ignored, and overlooked reputational exceptionalism has faded — and finally, branded activists, corporations, organizations etc. are being held to a greater standard for their unacceptably insufficient performative activism.

One particular youth activist that has been called out during this time is Nadya Okamoto. Nadya Okamoto is the founder of PERIOD Movement, an organization that self-identifies as “a global-youth powered nonprofit fighting against period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy.” Her organization has gained prestige for becoming what Okamoto describes as “the largest youth led nonprofit in women’s health.” Nadya Okamoto has received wide recognition, including being named: Teen Vogue 21 under 21, InStyle Magazine’s Badass 50, Forbes 30 under 30, Bloomberg 50 “Ones to Watch”, Huffpost Culture Shifters 2020, People Magazine’s Women Changing the World, and Her Campus 22 under 22 Most Inspiring College Women. Nadya has also won the L’oreal Women of Worth Award, amongst many others, and provided the foundation for her 2018 book, Period Power: A Manifesto of the Menstrual Movement. She launched an unsuccessful campaign for Cambridge City Council in 2017, currently serves as the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, and is currently a rising senior at Harvard College.

My story with Nadya starts in 2015: I was 16, participating in a program empowering girls to start projects in their community, I had started Code Red Co. a collective & co-powering organization breaking the period taboo & providing space for Menstruators & their period wellness through literacy, aid, & advocacy. I was young and passionate about collaborating and building a partnership with established feminist entrepreneurism such as Nadya Okamoto. Nadya encouraged me to sign up as a chapter in order to initiate the partnership, to which I insisted the basis of our collaboration should be through partnership, not a chapter to her organization. She convinced me that all corporate partners signed up and operated in their chapter model to keep up to date with their networks and tracking of care packages. I was inspired by her story and trusted her word, and I signed up to be a chapter for her, not realizing the manipulation tactic Okamoto had used in an attempt to dissolve my organization. She had told me at first that I would have “complete freedom” over my organization but then soon told me that there was a clause in the contract for chapters which made it so my organization was not able to open up a bank account or register independently.

It soon became very clear that Nadya had over the years intentionally exploited my intellectual labor and misinformed eagerness in an attempt to prevent the future of my organization to pursue a nonprofit status by relegating it as a chapter of PERIOD. Despite misleading and coercing me into believing that signing on as a chapter was solely based on a partnership, Nadya accused my organization of “mimicking” PERIOD’s work; condescendingly stating that she was “touched by it” but wasn’t going to stand for my organization’s development with the same model. This situation is only just a glimpse at Nadya Okamoto’s constant fight to undermine my work and my organization’s work. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, Nadya’s history of trying to dissolve grassroots and community organizations by manipulating and exploiting the trust of people to unknowingly work for and benefit solely her is not unique. Many organizations’ founders have come forward on Twitter to say that Nadya and PERIOD have tried to dissolve their organizations. Corporate nonprofits’ like PERIOD who monopolize community based work are a huge problem when bullying smaller organizations that are doing meaningful work and serving the community into dissolving. I am bringing this to public attention, because a huge flaw in the non-profit industrial complex is that it is founded and bolstered on the backs of individuals, such as Nadya, who are willing to exploit and fein the hardship and trust of others for clout, sympathy, credibility, and material benefit.

Police brutality, systemic racism, and endured violent discrimination against BIPOC Americans is not, and will not be tolerated as, an opportunity for performative activists, such as Nadya, to exploit and profit off of the Black plight. The reason this theme is particularly relevant to my disdain towards Nadya Okamoto, is founded on the undeniable truth that her exploitative and dishonest behavior is not isolated or limited to the recent BLM outbreak.

Fed up with the performative activism so present during this time, I called Nadya Okamoto out on June 4th to remind her of when she tried to dissolve my organization and exploited my ideas and labor. Organizers in the period space soon joined in, expressing complaints such as plagiarism and the stealing of intellectual labor without any credit especially from black and brown run organizations. In less than 24 hours, several others began voicing difficult experiences when working with Nadya Okamoto on Twitter, providing recollections and examples of Nadya’s inexcusably deplorable behavior: such as manipulation, overworking, exploitation of labor, harassment, and false promises.

Another prominent source of criticism and anger stems in response to Nadya Okamoto’s history of lying about her history of housing insecurity and exploiting an untrue experience of homelessness to boost her platform under the term “legal homelessness” as she began PERIOD, got into Harvard, and ran for municipal office in 2017.

Many former workers, employees, and classmates of Nadya’s were quick to share their negative first-hand experiences with Nadya’s exploitation, dishonesty, and abuse. A vast majority of whom criticized her 2017 Campaign for Cambridge City Council given that she ran for municipal office in a city she had only lived in for less than a year, and falsified much of her “narrative” in order to gain support and volunteers. Nadya had made little-to-no prior effort to actively engage in the Cambridge community and its issues, nor did she spend her entire summer in the city itself due to her other job commitments. Nadya founded her campaign on the basis that she would have become the youngest Asian American to run for office, and the first ever entirely youth-run campaign in history.

Her obsession with being the “first” is what erases the work of those who paved the path towards the menstrual rights movement and an end towards period poverty. The problem, and fundamental inconsistency, with these notions was that these overarching messages and slogans were not met with a similar interest in investing and supporting her Campaign team or the Cambridge community. Much like her social media and misleading and falsified childhood stories of hardship, Nadya’s unsuccessful City Council Campaign was rooted in her willingness to forgo honesty in order to achieve status and sympathy.

Students from Harvard, locals from Cambridge, youth activists, and organizers from across the period activism space nationally and internationally have all taken advances with evidence and proof to expose Nadya and PERIOD for the violence they have done to black and brown individuals in exploiting their intellectual labor. Nadya and PERIOD have tried to monopolize period activism and menstrual health movements by dissolving “competition” so that PERIOD can remain at the center focus of the work and discredit the work of other organizations.

Though Nadya Okamoto espouses the values of activism and collaboration she has done little to practice or exemplify them. In a space meant for communal learning and doing, the coming together of diverse voices, and of uplifting others, time and time again, Okamoto chose her reputation and her personal gain above the voices of black and brown organizers who were on a mission she claimed to be on too. Putting competition above collaboration, her work has become the antitheses of activist work. Though she works HARD, she is hardly working for others.

Individuals impacted have set up a list of demands for both Nadya Okamoto and PERIOD to make moving forward:

  • Nadya Okamoto stepping down from her advocacy lead role in PERIOD
  • Having a Black Menstruator replace the executive director of PERIOD or give chapters the option of quitting period and becoming their own organizations
  • Posting a public apology to the Cambridge/Harvard Community as well as those in the period space for the harm she has caused
  • Awards and articles that have Nadya Okamoto as homeless being corrected and redone
  • Complete financial transparency about brand deals, speaking engagements, etc. and committing to redistribution of money into mutual aid funds and grassroots organizers in the menstrual space.
  • Completely erase any narrative of being “the first ones” to do anything especially when it comes to national period day and efforts to end the tampon tax
  • Black and Brown led organizations receiving access to PERIOD’s resources such as menstrual products etc.

As a result of people being brave enough to tell their stories, momentum has continued. In the last few week, PERIOD chapters associated with the PERIOD movement have also reached out hoping to write statements of departure from the organization itself. The purpose of exposing Nadya and her character is not to annihilate movements or organizations, such as PERIOD, but to unveil the often corrupt and dishonorable behavior of individuals who must be held accountable for their actions. It is crucial to the integrity of progressive and meaningful movements — such as the menstrual movement, BLM, Youth in Government etc., that we recognize and celebrate the real work that movements and organizations may achieve while separating that from performative activists and leaders who utilize such platforms and meaningful movements for power-grabbing, self-promotion, and profit. We are therefore encouraging brands, organizations, and supporters that have worked with Nadya in the past to take the time to reflect on the character of the individuals they give awards to and consider if their recipients contribute to anti blackness.

There are so many grassroots organizations doing community centered work when it comes to ending period poverty; However, awards, platforms, and money are not distributed equally among organizations working on a grassroots and local community base especially to those who are black and brown. Due to erasure, it is incredibly important that we give spotlight to black grassroots organizations doing on the ground work.

On Tuesday, black led organizations and businesses as well as our allies will unite together and post a graphic containing the words “We stand together in solidarity with black orgs and businesses in the period space as we fight against our exploitation by NGOs and businesses who have never fully seen our lives as valuable.” with the hashtag #pulluporshutup to speak about our stories when dealing with Nadya Okamoto and other corporate NGOs and businesses in the space.

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Black organizations such as @hatethedot, @flocodexo, @wearehappyperiod , and @coderedco have come together to highlight black led organizations engaging in the work to end the menstrual taboo and fight to an end of period poverty.

Here are a list of black organizations in the period equity space:

@wearehappyperiod: #HappyPeriod works to spread awareness on menstrual health, eliminate the stigma surrounding menstruation, and provide people with periods options that are good for their wallet, their body, and the planet. They believe to manage menstruation, education and access to safe products are essential. They focus on to help anyone with a period that has low income, is homeless, or living in poverty. Learn more here.

@flocodexo : Flo Code is the leading support organization in the Texas community donating over 450,000 menstrual products to 100+ organizations, schools, shelters and natural disaster victims. Flo Code works to advance the common good by focusing on health, education and social injustice in the community. They also strive to bring awareness to and end the stigma of menstruation in our society. Learn more here.

@coderedco : Code Red Co. is collective & co-powering cooperative organization breaking the period taboo & providing space for Menstruators & their period wellness through literacy, aid, & advocacy. Learn more here.

@sendingheressentials: Sending Her Essentials innovates ways to support girls aged 10–18 in the realm of menstrual health education & product distribution, as well as equips young girls with business skills to produce their own income in a safe and sustainable way. Learn more here.

@hatethedot: Hate the Dot is a woman-owned company that turns your monthly cycle into a self-care ritual by providing period products like 100% organic cotton tampons and pads, and self-care items like soothing teas. Every time one invests in your own self-care, they provide vital period products to homeless & less-fortunate menstruating individuals. Learn more here.

@shetalksmovement: She Talks Movement is a community of empowered women changing the narrative of womanhood through community, action, and transformation. Learn more here.

@oam_global: Once-A-Month exists to end menstrual inequity, elevate women healthcare and empower women economically. Learn more here.

I believe that there is much potential for Nadya Okamoto to grow as an individual and leader but, in doing so she must be transparent and remain responsible for the harm she has committed. This moment signifies just a piece of a larger conversation on accountability.

Many companies, organizations, and individuals during this time are afraid to admit harm because they fear accountability due to denial and shame. This is why they must be called out. In the past few days, Nadya has tried to cover up her history of dishonesty, exploitation, and manipulation without admitting fault, taking accountability, and apologizing to those who she has directly harmed. Addressing performative activism like this is incredibly important, especially during such a time as this as we all fight in solidarity for black liberation and an end to police brutality. It shouldn’t have taken this moment for people to realize that black lives matter because black lives have always mattered and have always been contributing to culture and social change. Calling out those who have profited off of a marginalized experience and built their brand by exploiting many black individuals and their organizations is a pressing and urgent issue to our current times.

It is crucial to call out the reprehensible monopolization of activism startups given that movements were made for the masses. There is no one face to the movement or one organization doing the work, there is only collective effort when addressing problems and issues that face our society.

Written by

Ileri Jaiyeoba is a recent graduate of New York University where she studied Decoloniality and Reparations. She is currently pursuing a Master’s at Harvard.

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