The spirit of the women who participate in the movements fighting for housing in Brazil is as hard as lime and wood. As a majority in land occupations, they vigorously coordinate organizational and political practices of settlement and popular housing construction. It is no wonder that many of the occupations of the MST (Landless Rural Workers' Movement) or the MTST (Homeless Workers' Movement) carry the names of women such as Dandara, a quilombo leader from the colonial period.
Cheyenne Pereira Miguel is one of these women. As the coordinator of the MLB (Social Movement in Neighbourhoods, Towns, and Slums), one of the social movements of Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais), she moved in 2017 to the Paulo Freire Occupation, in the southwest of the capital of Minas Gerais. She and her brothers and sisters built the plywood house on their own - a reality consistent with most of the community's occupations, where the population lacks technical assistance.
Once the house was built, the photographic model and glass cleaner hoped to improve the conditions of her dwelling. "I wanted to learn how to make things myself to spend less on labor for my home."
It was through the women of the Eliana Silva occupation, which is right next to hers, that Cheyenne learned about the project Architecture in the Periphery.
Women teaching women to design
The project Architecture in the Periphery is the result of a master's thesis by architect Carina Guedes. It has been running since 2014, offering technical assistance courses to women in territories with insufficient housing and infrastructure, such as peripheral communities and occupations.
"We work so that women have maximum autonomy in the decision-making process involving the improvement of their homes," says Carina. The project staff is also made up of women. In addition to the creator, architect Marina Bornel and civil engineers Rafaela Dias and Tereza Barros also work on the project.
The project's actions in occupations such as Paulo Freire and Eliana Silva reveal that, although women are clearly at the forefront of civil struggles, "in building construction, and deciding how the house should be, most of the women report that their wishes are not honored, and some are not even consulted. It is either the father, uncle, husband, or bricklayer who makes the decisions. This leads to bad consequences in the lives of women who, besides having a job, also take care of domestic maintenance, such as kitchens without ventilation, narrow stairs, taps where the bucket won't fit", reports the architect.
The project is structured in workshops that last from four to six months and begins with drawing and sketching classes. They then learn financial basics, to deal not only with the small loan received from the project but also with the mathematics of everyday expenses and the purchase of construction materials.
"It's very nice to see their transformation during this process. Community leaders who are already recognized in this place of struggle, though not in the domestic sphere, begin to realize that they also have the same capacity and that all they lack is access to information," Carina reports.
The social role of architecture
Cheyenne, who has never had any experience with technical assistance, is already putting into practice the skills learned in the workshops, applying knowledge in bricklaying, plumbing, flooring, and electrical systems. "For an activist woman from an occupation, this education goes beyond construction. It represents freedom and conquer".
Carina, the idealizer, also believes that the project has another important social purpose, that of making architecture - a profession traditionally dedicated to the construction and improvement of privileged areas - recognize and react to the abysmal social inequalities in Brazil.
"Once, while doing a survey with a woman living in the Dandara Occupation, I saw that there was already an architecture project for her. She said it was beautiful, but when I asked her why she didn't build it, she said: 'It's not for me'. What good is a beautiful project if it's going to stay in the drawer? The point of technical assistance is to recognize the habits and desires of those who reside."