Think back to your freshman year of college—between an overload of information, tons of new friends, and living as an “adult” for the first time, chances are you weren’t changing the national narrative around a controversial topic. (Just me?)
But that is precisely what Nadya Okamoto is doing. The Harvard freshman is bringing attention to something that gets lost in the discussion of homelessness—women’s health care. (Specifically: tampons and pads.)
With the nonprofit she founded, Camions of Care (which will soon change its name to Period), the first-semester student—dubbed “period girl” on campus—delivers menstrual care packages to women in need around the world.
It all started in high school, when Okamoto’s family became legally homeless. Although the family lived with friends in Portland, OR—not in a shelter—she actually caught the bus to school near a homeless shelter. After chatting with the women who lived there, she learned that their biggest struggle was menstrual hygiene, or lack thereof.
“They would tell me about the discomfort that they had or the type of infections and skin irritations that they would get from using those sorts of trash to maintain menstrual hygiene,” Okamoto explains to The Cut.
“We say the menstrual movement is our push to make menstrual hygiene and menstruation a more open topic.”
Today, Camions of Care has 60 chapters across the US and has “addressed over 31,000 periods through over 40 nonprofits and 23 states and 13 countries,” says Okamoto.
That’s bloody impressive (sorry, had to). And her crusade fits right in with a growing frankness about periods and women’s health in general—everything from Kiran Ghandi’s “period marathon” in London and Lola’s “Make Periods Great Again” campaign to an uptick in new healthy-ladyparts products like Lo Bosworth’s Love Wellness.
Basically, in the past couple of years we’ve seen the conversation about menstrual realness get super-charged, with blunt, patriarchy-be-damned ad campaigns from Thinx here in the US and Bodyform in the UK. And then there are powerhouses like Okamoto, who are helping to lead the way into 2017.
“We say the menstrual movement is our push to make menstrual hygiene and menstruation a more open topic, and menstruation something that is recognized as beautiful and celebrated, rather than looked at and maybe felt with shame and self-consciousness and feelings of wanting to hide,” she explains.
With leaders like this, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see changes in way we talk about our bodies and the way we prioritize their care—period.
Inspired to start your own one-woman menstrual realness campaign? These six healthy tampon brands aren’t just better for your—they’ll help women in need. Or find out why people are fighting for free tampons for everyone—and get on board.