Menstrual Equity Activists push for inclusivity, grassroots change after separating from national organization


Logos courtesy of MEA, graphic by Ali McCadden

Northwestern MEA is advocating for equity and inclusion among menstruators in Illinois. Originally called Northwestern PERIOD, the group changed its name after controversy surrounding the national PERIOD organization.

Ali McCadden, Reporter

Northwestern PERIOD rebranded as Northwestern Menstrual Equity Activists last fall, a change that corresponds with a move from college chapters across the country to disassociate from the national PERIOD organization.

Founder Nadya Okamoto was criticized in an article by activist Ileri Jaiyeoba and other activists on social media for not recognizing the work of grassroots organizers and menstruators of color.

Meghna Gaddam, president of MEA, said the change also represents a shift away from a corporate system with national oversight and instead emphasizes inclusive, grassroots organizing.

“Equity is all encompassing. It’s education, it’s access, it’s advocacy,” Gaddam said. “So we were super excited that our name represented more of what we wanted to do.”

When Gaddam founded the group last May, members focused on getting support for a petition to support state-funded free menstrual products in Illinois’ homeless shelters. After the petition garnered almost 700 signatures, Gaddam and MEA Vice President Mahie Gopalka met with state Rep. Barbara Hernandez (D-Aurora), who authored a bill that would allow people to purchase menstrual products with public benefits supplied under the existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Though the bill is currently labeled non-emergent and has been tabled, the Illinois General Assembly has recently returned to session. Gaddam and Gopalka are hoping to refocus their efforts by accumulating witness slips, which allow people to voice their support for a bill.

Gaddam said disassociating from PERIOD allowed MEA to get creative with its structure, rather than following the chapter outline from the national organization. The group spent Fall Quarter establishing an executive board and generating committees that are working on “passion projects” around menstrual equity.

Medill junior Anna Margevich, co-director of public relations and leader of an LGBTQ+ inclusivity committee, said she hopes to collaborate either with Rainbow Alliance at NU, a feminist orchestra group from DePaul University or LGBTQ+ centers in Chicago this quarter.

Gopalka said she’s excited to reinvigorate MEA’s community service efforts, after the group donated 1,000 menstrual products to a local women’s shelter in May.

For now, members are looking forward to a virtual event on Jan. 28 in collaboration with the NU Women Filmmakers Alliance. The event will include a screening of the Oscar Award-winning documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” which follows women fighting against period stigma in India. A panel discussion involving three menstrual equity experts — Sarah Rodriguez, Anya Patel and Shilpa Bhakare — will follow the event.

Gaddam and Gopalka said they are excited to see what new members will accomplish going forward.

“We wouldn’t be MEA without the people who joined and are interested in leading their own committees, or are interested in getting involved with service or activism,” Gopalka said. “Being able to leave Northwestern with a space that is created so that these conversations can continue, I’m really excited about that.”

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