Lili Rutai

Period poverty: Hungary’s silent scourge MF

Is period poverty becoming extinct? Many EU countries have slashed the “tampon tax” and the UK is moving toward abolishing it completely, like at least 20 U.S. states. Not so in Hungary, where women and girls live with the highest tax on female hygiene products in the EU. The major media – beholden to the nationalist government – ignore the issue. So one young Hungarian journalist and feminist decided to investigate the problem herself. Press Start will match all contributions made to her campaign, so your dollars will go twice as far.


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I am a freelance Hungarian journalist, and my goal is to shine a light on social inequalities in the country, with a pinch of feminism. 


At the age of 10 I was writing, editing, illustrating, printing and selling a school newspaper. When I was 16 years old, I started my internship at a fashion newspaper during the summer holiday. After graduating, I started a media and communication course at ELTE in Budapest, one of the best universities in Hungary. 


While studying journalism, I interned at various media outlets. I wrote many articles about fashion, tourism, Budapest, some of them in English. I spent one semester in the UK as an Erasmus student to make my writing in English better. 


In my second year, my interest became clear: I wanted to become a journalist, but instead of fashion I was pretty sure I wanted to cover social injustice, feminism, poverty, and other social issues. One serious issue affecting thousands of Hungarian women is period poverty.


At the age of 21, my feature article on a rehab for teenage boys ran in one of the most prestigious literary and political papers in the country, Élet és Irodalom. 


At the age of 22, I started my feminist blog, and I was asked to write for an independent online newspaper’s blog about women and feminism. I still publish on that site, Átlátszó.hu.


As a freelancer, and as a young woman, I find it challenging to be considered serious. I think that this is one of the reasons I started calling myself a feminist, and this is why I started talking and writing about matters affecting women. 


In the past few months I graduated and began a master’s program in sociology, received stipends to go to Morocco and Italy to write about poverty and migration, and started my feminist podcast. I worked undercover on a project I cannot name yet, and I had more stories published by Hungarian news outlets.  


I believe that I am really lucky: I have had the chance to go to school and later to university, my family supported me so I could do free internships, and as a result, I am making a living from what I love: writing. I have traveled to many places and learned foreign languages.


I think my responsibility is to help those who are not so lucky, especially young girls and women. I believe journalism is a great way to do that: I can call attention to serious difficulties that are not addressed enough. Period poverty, for example. 


Many NGOs, schools and other establishments that work with children and young adults in Hungary have confirmed my suspicion: many young women face period poverty every day. The few campaigns to distribute female hygiene 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.


There is an easy way for the state to ease the burden of period poverty: by cutting the tampon tax, so that female hygiene products benefit from the same lower rates as other basic needs. But the Hungarian government just decided against cutting the tampon tax, although at 27 % the tax is exorbitant, compared to other European countries. 


The Hungarian media is not in the best position to cover this issue: I know newspapers that are interested in publishing these articles, but I cannot get funding for my projects. Most newspapers are government-owned and would not cover topics like this, and the independent ones that I work for don’t have enough money. Still, I believe that this idea is worth it, and I hope that crowdfunding will be the solution. 

Click here to see Lili Rutai's reporting proposal.

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