First National Period Day to Take Place All Over the U.S.

You may have noticed menstruation has taken the spotlight on social media and in day-to-day life. In this age where previously censored topics have become mainstream, it’s important that we engage in real conversations about the issues being raised. As uncomfortable as it may make you, talking about periods is a must when considering human rights. Around the world, millions of young people are forced to skip school and miss out on educational opportunities due to a lack of period products. This negatively contributes to the emotional and mental well-being of students around the world, and many end up dropping out of school because they have fallen behind due to absences warranted by their menstrual cycles. Whether it’s a lack of access to materials or the inability to pay for them, many people do not have the luxury of clean and affordable period products. Now, thanks to young people that are bringing attention to period poverty and the reality that millions of people face every year, things are starting to change.

On October 19, 55 rallies will take place in all 50 states in honor of the first National Period Day. A movement that has been spearheaded by young people who are committed to making real change in our world, National Period Day is a day of advocacy for the menstrual movement that was organized by PERIOD, a non-profit organization seeking to end period poverty. The main goals of National Period Day are to break the stigma around periods, ensure that period products are accessible to all and ending the tampon tax. The tampon tax is a value-added tax on period products (read: necessities), while many other goods such as prescription medicine, including Viagra, are tax-exempt. It’s an extra barrier that makes period products inaccessible to some, and National Period Day is working to bring attention to that.

In 2014, Nadya Okamoto asked a classmate, Vincent Fonder, if he wanted to start a non-profit organization to help bring attention to period poverty with her. They were high schoolers –– both 16 years old –– but he agreed to help her and at that moment, a movement was born. Although they didn’t know it then, PERIOD would become internationally recognized for its positive message and strides for change. Now, there are hundreds of PERIOD chapters around the world that work together to distribute period products to those in need and are dedicated to raising awareness for the menstrual movement.

Okamoto experienced homelessness and financial insecurity growing up, and she met many people throughout her journey that inspired this movement. She saw people struggle to afford basic necessities such as pads and tampons and witnessed the extent to which period products are not supplied in government facilities or homeless shelters. It lit a fire within her, and she has turned that passion into a movement that is sure to change lives and help get rid of the injustice that menstruators face.

Throughout this article, I will not be referring to menstrual/period products as feminine products, feminine hygiene products or anything of that nature. Assuming that periods are exclusive to women is dismissive of the people who do not fall under the gender binary and/or are transgender. As Nadya Okamoto said, “not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators are women.” As with any movement, intersectionality is vital to making sure that everyone’s voice is heard and respected –– using the inclusive and all-encompassing terms menstrual/period products is a simple way to do this.

In addition to being a student at Harvard University, Okamoto is the executive director of PERIOD and one of the leading voices of the menstrual movement. Her book, Period Power: a Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, was published in 2018 and serves as a guide to what the menstrual movement is and why people should be informed about it. The book highlights many of the menstruation-related diseases that can be seen in menstruators, including but not limited to endometriosis, as well as the history behind periods and why they were considered to be (and, for some, continue to be) a shameful experience for so long.

Gone are the days where menstruators feel the need to hide their period products as they head to the bathroom during class or feel shame due to menstruation. Open communication about menstruation also allows for conversations about symptoms and experiences to happen naturally, which can be an essential factor in identifying when one’s symptoms are out of the ordinary. Oftentimes, doctors deflect extreme period pain as being normal, when it’s simply not. For many, it can be hard to recognize when there is a more serious medical condition occurring because periods are so stigmatized that talking about them can be uncomfortable. PERIOD is working hard to reclaim the stigma and initiate change all over the world.

Period Power also goes into great detail regarding period poverty. Most people do not consider menstruation when they think of the financially insecure or homeless population of their communities. Menstruators across the country (and the world) use anything they can as a substitute for typical menstrual products like pads and tampons. Instead, they are forced to use trash, scraps of cardboard, brown paper bags or toilet paper. Many people are also unable to access showers on a regular basis so feeling clean during a menstrual period is a luxury that many can’t afford. PERIOD is working to remedy this. Between rallies, National Period Day and all the work they do behind the scenes, Nadya Okamoto and her team are working to ensure that all menstruators have access to these necessities.

Just a few days ago, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota announced that she is a cosponsor of the Menstrual Equity for All Act. This act serves a number of purposes, but its main focus is to provide students, employees, incarcerated individuals and homeless individuals with menstrual products. The national recognition that PERIOD and National Period Day are garnering is a positive step in the movement to end period poverty. There are over 450 registered PERIOD chapters around the world, and this number is sure to increase after National Period Day. As young people learn about the menstrual movement, they are more likely to engage in activist work that will strengthen the movement and spread its positive message.

Whether it’s attending a local National Period Day rally or calling your representatives to ask them to get rid of the tampon tax, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and support the menstrual movement. We all have the power to enact change within our communities, and simply spreading the message of the menstrual movement can be the first step to doing just that. As uncomfortable as it may make people around you feel, the only way we’ll truly put an end to the stigma around periods is if we break that barrier of discomfort; the stigma will last as long as we let it, so it’s up to us to put an end to it.