What is Favela?

June 21, 2024


What is Favela? This question is often asked by those who are unfamiliar with the term. Favela is a term used in Brazil to describe informal settlements or shantytowns that are typically found in urban areas. These communities are often characterized by poverty, overcrowding, and lack of basic services. In this glossary, we will explore the history, culture, and challenges faced by favela residents.

History of Favelas

The history of favelas in Brazil dates back to the late 19th century, when former slaves and rural migrants began to settle on the outskirts of major cities. These settlements were initially known as “bairros africanos” or African neighborhoods. Over time, these communities grew and became known as favelas, a term derived from a plant that was common in the region.

Characteristics of Favelas

Favelas are characterized by their informal and often precarious housing structures, which are typically built without proper planning or permits. These communities are often located on steep hillsides or in areas prone to natural disasters such as floods and landslides. Despite these challenges, favela residents have developed strong social networks and a sense of community.

Social Issues in Favelas

Favelas face a range of social issues, including poverty, unemployment, crime, and inadequate access to education and healthcare. These challenges are exacerbated by a lack of government investment in infrastructure and social services. As a result, favela residents often face discrimination and marginalization.

Culture and Community in Favelas

Despite the challenges they face, favela communities are known for their vibrant culture and strong sense of community. Residents often come together to celebrate festivals, music, and dance. Favelas are also home to a thriving arts scene, with many residents expressing themselves through graffiti, music, and other forms of creative expression.

Urban Development and Gentrification

In recent years, favelas have become the focus of urban development and gentrification efforts in Brazil. Some favelas have been targeted for redevelopment, leading to concerns about displacement and loss of community. Critics argue that these efforts often prioritize the interests of developers and investors over the needs of favela residents.

Government Policies and Interventions

The Brazilian government has implemented a range of policies and interventions aimed at improving conditions in favelas. These include programs to upgrade infrastructure, provide access to basic services, and promote economic development. However, critics argue that these efforts often fall short of addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality in favelas.

Community Empowerment and Activism

Favela residents have also taken matters into their own hands, organizing grassroots movements and community initiatives to address social issues and advocate for their rights. These efforts have been instrumental in raising awareness about the challenges faced by favela residents and pushing for change at the local and national level.

Challenges and Opportunities

While favelas continue to face significant challenges, they also present opportunities for innovation and social change. Many favela residents are actively involved in community development projects, social enterprises, and cultural initiatives that aim to improve the quality of life in these communities. By harnessing the creativity and resilience of favela residents, there is potential to create a more inclusive and equitable society.


In conclusion, favelas are complex and dynamic communities that have long been marginalized and stigmatized. By understanding the history, culture, and challenges faced by favela residents, we can work towards creating a more just and inclusive society for all.

Tatiana Cesso

As a journalist, I've made it my mission to explore and share stories that inspire, inform, and entertain. You may have stumbled upon my work in esteemed publications such as InStyle, Marie Claire, Bazaar, L’Officiel, and Vogue, among others. Having called the U.S. home since 2010, I've lived in Chicago, LA, and currently, Miami. But my heart always beats to the rhythm of Brazil. It's where I was born and raised, and my love for its culture, people, and energy knows no bounds. To share this passion, I've founded Brazilcore, a platform aimed at bridging the gap between Brazil and English speakers worldwide.