Date: February 26th, 2022 11:41 AM
Author: Big church building
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.
Nadya Okamoto’s ascent ended this summer in an Internet firestorm.
Okamoto's ascent ended this summer in an Internet firestorm.
Last month, Ileri Jaiyeoba, a New York City period activist, wrote an article on Medium accusing Okamoto of "misleading and coercing" her.
A swell of activist voices joined Jaiyeoba's, alleging Okamoto routinely muscled out Black and brown activists, monopolized resources, and took credit for other people's work.
"Have they exploited people? Yes," Jaiyeoba tells WW. "Have they erased other activists? Yeah."
Many critics also accused Okamoto of inflating her résumé by exaggerating her own housing insecurity.
Okamoto did not respond to requests for comment. In a long public apology she posted June 25 after Jaiyeoba's criticism, she admitted she had "caused harm" and said she "deeply apologizes to those I have silenced or invalidated over the years."
After the backlash, Period severed ties with its founder.
"In order to rebuild Period, we have terminated our contract with Nadya and called for an independent review," read a July 2 statement from Period's board.
Period's executive director, Michela Bedard, tells WW it has no contractual or financial ties remaining with Okamoto and that it's been "a difficult and embarrassing time." She says the backlash has affected the amount of menstrual products donated by corporate partners.
Despite pushing Okamoto out, Period finds itself on shaky ground as activists and chapters continue to voice concerns about the organization and Okamoto. More than 50 of Period's purported 750 chapters have decided to split with the organization, Bedard says.
Dear Mass NOW Community,
Recently, menstrual activist Ileri Jaiyeoba wrote a powerful article A Call for Accountability: Anti Blackness in the Menstrual Justice Space about her experience with manipulation and marginalization from Nadya Okamoto and Period.org. Upon sharing, many other activists have come forward with similar stories of plagiarism, efforts to dissolve “competition”, misrepresenting housing instability as homelessness and claiming to be the first on initiatives like National Period Day. As an organization that has partnered with Period.org, honored Nadya with the 2019 Wonder Woman awardee at our Feminist Affair this past fall and is committed to radical transparency and honesty in our ongoing antiracist work – we take these accusations very seriously and are committed to the following action steps:
Nadya and PERIOD are no longer apart of the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition
Retract the 2019 Wonder Woman Award from Nadya and redistribute the award to QTBIPOC menstrual equity activists in Massachusetts
Convene the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition this month to reflect on our role and complicity in anti-Blackness and develop an accountability plan with QTBIPOC-led organizations in the menstrual justice space.
Mass NOW stands in solidarity with Black organizations and businesses in the period space, and until PERIOD and Nadya meet the accountability demands of the activists, they will no longer be a part of the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity coalition.
Mass NOW and the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition is committed to reflecting on our role and complicity in anti-blackness and are doubling down on our work to partner with QTBIPOC-led organizations in the menstrual justice space. The Mass NOW board has decided to retract the 2019 Wonder Woman Award, and instead will be redistributing the award to the QTBIPOC activists who’ve been leading menstrual equity work in Massachusetts. We are still developing what this and accountability overall for our coalition looks like and will be convening the coalition this month to discuss our action plan.
As a currently and historically white led organization, we recognize Mass NOW’s privilege to amplify period poverty without ever having experienced it ourselves – and are committed to working in solidarity with impacted communities and QTBIPOC-led organizations. We know that this means we have blindspots, make mistakes and want to be transparent when we do and hold ourselves accountable. We will be following up more to acknowledge ways Mass NOW & the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition have been complicit in anti-Blackness and what action steps we will take to dismantle the structures that have allowed for this complicity. The Mass NOW board is currently in the process of developing a racial justice accountability plan for our organization too and would love to hear feedback from our community directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or anonymously anytime.
We am incredibly proud of and grateful for the activists in this coalition who made us aware of the situation and immediately took action. Read this statement of solidarity on the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition website. We have shared here some of the black-led organizations and businesses in the menstrual equity space and encourage everyone to support these organizations and businesses and commit to educating themselves, not only by exploring the work of those listed, but also by continuously seeking to find and learn more about black-led organizations and businesses in the period space. You can read a statement from one of our coalition members, the former Brandeis PERIOD chapter here. If you need, here is an anonymous form to share harms experienced from Nadya and PERIOD.
In the meantime, we want everyone to know that it is thanks to Manikka Bowman’s advocacy, by the 2017/18 school year the Cambridge Public School System was the first in the Commonwealth to implement a menstrual product policy in schools. We can’t wait for every school, shelter & prison in Massachusetts to follow in their footsteps. Menstrual products are necessities. Period.
A lot of the dialogue has been on instagram. Here are some links to read more:
June 23 Instagram from ilerijaiye
June 23 Instagram from Hatethedot
June 23 Instagram from chelseavonchaz
June 26 Instagram from theperiodprince about Period’s apology
June 27 apology from nadyaokamoto
June 27 apology from PERIOD
June 27 Instagram from untabooed
June 28 Instagram from hariol.ma
PERIOD founder Nadya Okamoto was accused of convincing smaller menstrual advocacy organizations to become PERIOD chapters, allowing her to avoid potential competition and take full credit for others’ work. Smaller organizations, such as Code Red Co, were created by women of color who thought they were entering a partnership but were instead pushed aside by PERIOD.
The public backlash from the scandal coincided with the recent resurgence of Black Lives Matter, leading many chapters to rebrand themselves and independently contribute to the menstrual advocacy campaign. Georgia State’s PERIOD chapter chose to rebrand, becoming The Cycle GSU. The organization chose to rename the group to sever ties with PERIOD’s national organization.
Georgia State’s PERIOD chapter thrived on being all about inclusivity and creating a safe space for diverse conversations on menstrual health. It was only natural that this rebranding happened promptly following this scandal. President of The Cycle GSU Genesis Williams agrees with this sentiment as she hopes to carry on these values and disassociate from the chapter’s former title.
“We are a diverse organization, but [on] our executive board, many of our members happen to be Black women,” Williams said. “It didn’t sit well with us to know that [Black, Indigenous and people of color] women and men basically created that organization and were never rightfully credited for it. In solidarity with our peers and family, we decided that we would rebrand and dissociate ourselves from PERIOD rather than disbanding.”
The rebranding was essential for the organization to foster a space of inclusivity in the menstrual movement.
“Since our debut, we have received so much love, and many people agree and approve of our decision to rebrand,” she said. “We want The Cycle to be a safe space for everyone. Every voice will be heard, appreciated and will have a part in this growing movement.”
The organization has no plans to slow down following this rebranding. They look forward to continuing to impact this movement.
“There is lots of work to be done in this movement,” Williams said. “We have many events, community service opportunities and bonding to do. It’s truly going to be an amazing year for us and our movement.”
The Cycle has been working towards establishing themselves through community work and virtual events as they aim for their impact to be more considerable among the Georgia State community. The Cycle public relations chair Brittnie Watson agrees with this as she hopes to see the organization accomplish big things this school year.
“Even though we are small and fairly new on campus, we are making big moves,” Watson said. “One of our goals is trying to dismantle the tampon tax, which places heavy taxes on menstrual items. We have been working alongside other period organizations to dismantle this tax hopefully.”
Although facing many changes, the organization’s values remain authentic to itself. This authenticity will hopefully lead to a greater impact on campus and in the Atlanta community.
The PERIOD Chapter Network is calling for PERIOD, Inc. to respond to the allegations against founder Nadya Okamoto by fulfilling the list of demands set forth in Ileri Jaiyeoba’s article.
This week, Ileri Jaiyeoba released a Medium article on the problematic actions of PERIOD, Inc.’s founder, Nadya Okamoto. Ileri begins by describing her personal experience with Nadya: “I was 16, participating in a program empowering young girls to start projects in their community, I had started Code Red Co., a collective and co-powering organization breaking the period taboo and providing space for menstruators and their period wellness . . . Nadya encouraged me to sign up as a chapter [of PERIOD] 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.”
Ileri continues to describe how Nadya was manipulative and exploitative, especially trying to discredit the work of BIPOC-run organizations. We stand in solidarity with Ileri and must hold Nadya accountable for these described actions, as well as others that have not been openly reported.
Demands (Full credit to Illeri Jaiyeoba):
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.
Nadya 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.
We sincerely urge PERIOD’s national team to implement these demands.