Nadya Okamoto Controversy: A Portland Student Has Become an Outspoken Advocate for Menstrual Equality. Some Say She Kept Them in The Dark so She Might Become Famous.
The 22-year-old Nadya Okamoto has already accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime. A former Portland homeless kid, she now runs a nonprofit with international recognition, has written a critically acclaimed book, and is about to earn her Harvard degree.
While in college, Okamoto ran for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was featured in an Adidas shoe campaign promoting women’s empowerment, and was called an influential individual by publications like Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek.
In 2014, on long bus rides through Old Town to private Catlin Gabel School, Okamoto overheard homeless women struggling to locate period products, and this sparked the idea for Period, her Portland-based NGO.
It was the women’s stories that “stirred something in me,” she says in her book Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement. I felt a responsibility to these women,” she continues.
And so Okamoto set out on a mission of her own, visiting homeless shelters and insisting that they stock their shelves with tampons and pads.
According to Okamoto, “from what I could tell at the time, no one else was talking about the necessity for period goods” in her book. “The world may benefit from hearing my perspective, and I felt obligated to share it. After reading it, I realized that I had the ability to change my situation.”
The organization Period, which distributes sanitary goods to homeless women and promotes period equity through a network of local chapters, has experienced rapid expansion. In 2018, annual sales amounted to $420,000.
However, Okamoto’s rise to prominence came to a stop this summer amid an online uproar.
Ileri Jaiyeoba, a period activist in New York City, published a piece on Medium last month in which she accused Okamoto of “misleading and coercing” her.
Others in the activist community echoed Jaiyeoba’s claims that Okamoto often bullied less powerful persons of color, hogged resources, and stole the limelight.
“Is it true that they’ve used people as slaves? Yes, “A message from Jaiyeoba to WW. “Did they also delete any other activists? Yeah.”
Okamoto has been accused by her detractors of making up stories about her struggles to find stable accommodation in order to boost her profile.
Unfortunately, Okamoto has ignored our pleas for feedback. She acknowledged that she had “inflicted pain” and apologized “truly to those I have suppressed or invalidated over the years” in a lengthy public apology released on June 25 in response to criticism from Jaiyeoba.
Due to the negative response, Period broke connections with its creator.
In a statement released on July 2, Period’s board said, “In order to rebuild Period, we have terminated our relationship with Nadya and called for an independent inquiry.”
Michela Bedard, executive director of Period, tells WW that the company is no longer bound by any agreements or financial obligations to Nadya Okamoto and that the split has been “tough and embarrassing.” She claims that the volume of menstruation products given by corporate partners has decreased as a result of the criticism.
Despite having ousted Okamoto, Period is in a precarious position as activists and chapters continue to express misgivings about the group and Okamoto. Bedard claims that more than half of Period’s supposedly 750 chapters had broken away from the group.
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To better connect with and magnify the excellent work done by fellow activists, Bedard adds, “Period should not be any single face or story.”
However, detractors argue that this is insufficient and call for the nonprofit to be shut down.
“How much of it is actually good when the inside of your organization has been this toxic space?” asks Jaiyeoba. Does the good you’ve done matter if it costs you everything?
They initially met at a conference when Jaiyeoba was 16 and Okamoto was 14. Okamoto just launched her foundation, and Jaiyeoba intended to do the same with a menstrual equity group. Okamoto was someone she looked up to because her life story was so similar to that of Jaiyeoba’s.
According to Jaiyeoba, a recent alumna of New York University, “Nadya is a really enchanting person, a lot of people are drawn to her because of her narrative.” It’s simple to be attracted to her; she’s a source of motivation.
Jaiyeoba told WW that she expressed interest in collaborating with Period throughout the course of the following year, but was taken aback when Okamoto argued that Jaiyeoba had signed a contract that prevented Jaiyeoba from registering her own firm as a charity. On the contrary, her group was officially recognized as a Period chapter thanks to the terms of the contract.
After Okamoto mentioned Jaiyoba’s company in an interview and falsely stated it was an affiliate of Period weeks later, Jaiyoba requested her to cease. We’re just noting your model is practically the exact imitation and it developed after we offered our tools to you,” Okamoto wrote to her in November 2016 (a copy of which was shared by Jaiyeoba with WW).
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Through a private, password-protected website, only Period chapters have access to the educational resource packages. According to Jaiyeoba, the chapter model is just another way that Period absorbs other activist groups so that it may avoid having to compete with them for funding.
The menstrual health organization Operation Period is led by Manju Bangalore in Eugene. “It felt like we were just distributors for them,” Bangalore said of the time in 2018 when Period provided products to Operation Period but included those data in Period’s own reporting. Time later, they stopped regularly supplying products to Bangalore’s nonprofit unless it was formally organized as a chapter.
New York author and lawyer Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who worked to get sales taxes removed from menstruation products in 10 states, thinks that kind of competitive activity is unusual.
“Try to imagine another movement where somebody has declared themselves the movement, thrown their face all over everything, and claimed, ‘I am the sole narrative,'” says Wolf-Weiss. “In the pursuit of the next award or magazine photo, people have this feeling of being gaslit or neglected,” the author writes.
According to Bedard, the Period is in the midst of an exhaustive internal audit, which includes the company’s various affiliates and chapters. In her words, “Period is examining all our initiatives to ensure we are working jointly, intimately, and in true support of young activists,” whether they are members of a Period chapter or not. There’s a lot to be done.
Okamoto appeared on a talk show in 2019 and expressed her feelings to the hosts as follows: “For this campaign to be taken seriously, we needed to publish a book. We’ve grown from a small group of friends and I putting up period packets on the weekend to a nationwide movement.”
Proponents, though, insist that the movement existed in some form long before Okamoto’s involvement. “A lot of people invested a lot of time and effort developing these ideas, and they just took everything and ran with it. in their own manifesto they put it, “claims Weiss-Wolf.
Nadya often used the phrase “legally homeless” to characterize her situation when speaking with reporters. Following their breakup, Jaiyeoba says she learned that Okamoto considered living with friends and family to be “homelessness.” That is also how the government defines those who are homeless. However, skeptics continue to assert that she was being dishonest.
Having gone from being homeless to becoming a successful businesswoman is “very toxic,” as Jaiyeoba puts it. It’s messed up when you put on an act to advertise yourself or to make yourself sound better.
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Okamoto expressed regret last month for “inaccurately [characterizing] my circumstance as anything more than it was.” However, “that was really traumatic for me as a young woman,” she said.
Two regional chapter heads are concerned that the opposition to Okamoto is distracting from the movement’s central goals.
Aishwarya Marathe, a former chapter leader at Arts & Communications Magnet Academy in Beaverton, adds, “We don’t want enthusiasm to die for our cause because of these claims.”
Avery Hellberg, leader of the Lincoln High School branch, explains, “When you’re fighting for something like menstrual rights, you want to get as big as possible in order to serve your cause.”
Okamoto writes in her book that she is not involved in the field of period equity “for the money or the recognition.” To her mind, there was no need to worry about rival organizations.
I don’t think there should be any rivalry between groups that have mobilized for the same purpose, she wrote. Don’t we all play for the same team?”
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