According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 11 million people in Brazil live in favelas. These favelas are urban settlements with no access to adequate water, sewage and energy systems, frequently forgotten by the government and the society. Usually placed on vulnerable areas, such as riverbanks, hills or under huge urban infrastructures, these favelas are often born due to the expansive and unaffordable prices of formal urban land in Brazil – forcing poor families to occupy these unused spaces of the city.
Due to the irregular use of the land on favelas, a result of the unrealistic real state market logic, residents are frequently deprived from basic human rights related to the appropriation of urban spaces. With no access to good education, health and housing systems, this marginalized part of the society is judged under a fragile meritocracy concept – “you can have anything if you work for it”. However, meritocracy is an unachievable concept in a national context where 50 million Brazilian people live with under than US$5,5 a day – unequal opportunities generate unequal consequences.
From my perspective, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in order to achieve an equal society in Brazil, is the lack of awareness of the reality of the precarious Brazilian housing and urban public systems. Favela residents are invisible in the streets, for the society and, most of all, for the government and public representatives. 11 million people are favela residents who are ignored by the system, demanding for efficient public policies and receiving the indifference of public agenda.
Those difficulties are even bigger for women – frequently abandoned by their male partners and facing the adversities of a sexist society everyday. As part of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Brazil that works for community empowerment in favelas, called TETO Brazil, I have been coordinating teams of volunteers for data research in the favelas of the state of Parana to urge governments to take actions, mapping for the communities’ analysis. TETO also works for emergency housing construction in favelas, providing an emergency solution for families living in precarious houses that could fall apart on the next rain.
Under these circumstances, I have met incredibly strong women, many of them leading their own community towards a better environment for their families and friends in the favelas they live in. These women usually faced enormous challenges through their lives, from domestic violence to natural disasters that took everything they have. Those adversities gave them the strength to fight for their families, communities and cities.
These women’s strength inspires me (and I believe all the other volunteers as well) to keep working side by side with them and to drive all our efforts to change the favela reality in Brazil. I believe that inspiration is what drives change in the world. These women inspired, taught and changed me. And it is my responsibility, alongside organisations and all the respect, to help spread their voices as far as possible and, hopefully, inspire others to fight for changing this reality with us. A complex reality can only be changed when it is visible for many people. So, our message today is clear and loud – we want visibility and voice for the favelas in Brazil. Will you join us?
More on Lais: http://youngleadersfordev.org/author/lais-leao/