Period poverty: Hungary’s silent scourge MF

Period poverty is a huge problem in Hungary, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers or watching TV. The media almost never report on the issue and the public hardly knows it exists.

 

I plan to investigate period poverty in Hungary, especially in rural areas, where the problem is greatest.

 

Period poverty means lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, and sanitary facilities. It is a burden on many girls and women worldwide, forcing many to miss school or work.

 

Period poverty has become a hot topic in recent years. In countries as diverse as the UK and India, reports and documentaries are proliferating and people are trying different solutions to the problem. Not in Hungary. A few NGOs have tried to tackle the problem, working in the dark, with no publicity. The few campaigns to distribute sanitary products have been very popular, but none lasted longer than a year. One campaign organizer told me their initiative simply couldn’t deliver needed products to all the girls and women in need. Homeless women are particularly at risk of falling into period poverty; some estimates put the number of homeless women in Hungary at 5,000.

 

I’ll be starting from ground zero. There are no official statistics on period poverty, and the few organizations that donate products or collect money usually don’t disclose their beneficiaries. Recently, though, the Red Cross announced it had helped more than 4,000 women in Hungary in the past year. 

 

Women and girls are also burdened by the highest “tampon tax” in the EU – a crippling 27%. Neighboring Slovakia, Austria and Slovenia apply a 10% VAT on female hygiene products, and Germany slashed the rate from 19% to 7%, one of the lowest in the EU.  EU institutions have discussed – but not acted on – a proposal to give member states the option to cut the tampon tax to zero – something ex-EU member Britain looks set to do in the near future. Several U.S. states are also looking into abolishing the tax.

 

I’ll do two articles for one of the most popular online news outlets in Hungary. In the first, I’ll speak to NGO workers, doctors, social workers, teachers, families, institutions. I’ll interview specialists and activists in different parts of the country. One group active in this field is Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (The Real Pearl Foundation). I will also talk to an organization that gives out sanitary products to homeless women in Budapest. I’ll also talk to doctors and social media activists and, naturally, I am reaching out to local and national politicians.

 

Most of these topics have never been explored by a journalist in Hungary before. I plan to ask probing questions: Why does the government seem indifferent to period poverty? Why is the tampon tax so much higher than in most European countries? Why are modern, environmentally friendly sanitary products slow to catch on in poor households? 

 

The second article will introduce Hungarian readers to a positive side of the story. In the UK, charities have made a serious dent in period poverty with innovative campaigns. The government has pledged to equip every school in the country with pads, tampons, panties and tights by January 2020. 

 

I’ll speak with the founders of the Red Box Project, one of the first charities to address the problem, and with Amika George, influencer, activist and founder of the Free Periods project. Together, Red Box and George have initiated a change in British policies and started a process that scored a huge success when the government pledged 2 million pounds to support worldwide initiatives to end period poverty. The government also earmarked 250,000 pounds for a task force on new ways to tackle period poverty in the UK.

 

The UK model might not necessarily work in Hungary, and it won’t solve period poverty worldwide either. At the very least, though, it can be the starting point for much-needed public discussion of the problem in Hungary. I’ll meet with Hungarian experts to discuss if this kind of solution could be tried in Hungary, and other steps to break the ice on this taboo issue in my country.

 

June 2020 update: Since Lili shot her video before the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to adjust her budget and cancel her travel plans to the UK. Instead she will interview people online.

 

 

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