Civic media for housing rights: lessons from struggles against evictions in São Paulo and Lagos

Grassroots organisations in São Paulo and Lagos are using digital and social media technologies to denounce rights violations and transform discourses about marginalised residents. A new IIED-led project aims to uncover, strengthen and create synergies between these practices to advance housing rights.

August 2022 - February 2025
Alexandre Apsan Frediani

Principal researcher, Human Settlements

Housing justice
A programme of work producing knowledge and methodologies for housing policy and initiatives that promote wellbeing and sustainability in cities of the global South
People gathering around a table with a laptop

Participatory video making in Lagos by members of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (Photo: Alexandre Apsan Frediani, IIED)

What is the role of digital and social media technologies in advancing social change? To what extent can these technologies, when used by grassroots groups, challenge discrimination in urban governance to advance housing rights?

Across different cities, grassroots groups are mobilising ‘civic media’ practices in their housing rights struggles, by collectively using digital and social media technologies to achieve social change.

In Lagos and São Paulo, groups are using different tactics to respond to the violations of rights that are threatening the lives and livelihoods of marginalised groups living in insecure housing.

In São Paulo, social movements are using online manifestos, webinars and digital mapping tools to generate public debates about housing rights violations and evictions, and to amplify the voices of the urban poor.

Meanwhile, in Lagos, the eviction and harassment of informal settlements dwellers have persisted even after being ruled unlawful by courts. In response, organised local groups have developed films, exhibitions and digital stories to mobilise public support and challenge social stigma.

In both cities, this project will strengthen these grassroots-led civic media initiatives, improving their capacity to shape equitable decision-making processes and support more inclusive and just visions of urban development and housing.

Women wearing masks and carrying banners make a triangle sign with their arms.

Members of União dos Movimentos por Moradia (UMM) on the streets defending the right to housing (Photo: Unmp Archive)

What is IIED doing?

IIED is leading this participatory action research project in partnership with social movements and organisations in São Paulo and Lagos.

In São Paulo, União dos Movimentos por Moradia (UMM), Brazil’s largest housing social movement, is using popular communication practices to support mobilisations in the city, for example through the production and dissemination through social media of podcasts by housing activists.

In Lagos, the NGO Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) has partnered with the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation to produce films, digital stories and photo exhibitions aimed at enhancing tenure security in informal settlements.  

This project seeks to support and learn from these initiatives by focusing on four interconnected areas of action: 

  • Research: by employing a participatory action research methodology to explore how civic media can bolster grassroots capabilities to advance housing rights, contribute to debates on participatory development, and offer new empirical data about how civic media could influence policymaking processes in two highly unequal cities
  • Capacity-building and mutual learning: by providing training, co-creating participatory methods and civic media labs so grassroots groups can advocate more effectively for inclusive interventions and shift narratives around social stigma and informal settlements
  • Policy influence, by identifying opportunities to impact policy and planning processes to support housing rights, reduce unlawful evictions and other violations, upgrade informal settlements, and secure policy instruments that can promote housing justice and enhance the recognition of marginalised urban citizens’ voices. The project will mobilise civic media campaigns to target these opportunities, as well as analyse the lessons and impacts across these experiences  
  • Advocacy: by raising policymakers’ awareness of marginalised residents’ voices and priorities, as well as disseminating civic media methodologies for other grassroots organisations, which can advance housing rights in cities across the global South. We will share key lessons with international networks of practitioners, civil society organisations, donors and engaged academics to enhance the capabilities of social movements to advance housing justice.

Also working with the Laboratório Justiça Territoria of the Federal University of ABC, Brazil, and the Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law at University of Ibadan, in Nigeria, which have been working hand in hand with grassroots groups in their cities, IIED will use its expertise to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, document and share experiences and lessons from the process, and lead advocacy activities to advance the housing justice agenda.

  • Lessons from this project and the same methodology are being used in cities in Nepal in India, where IIED is working with partners to strengthen the capacity of diverse young people to collectively use civic media to make claims on and influence urban governance.