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Sylvia  Bawa  - York  University . Toronto , ON, CA

Sylvia Bawa

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology | York University

Toronto , ON, CANADA

Dr. Bawa teaches sociology at York University





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Dr. Sylvia Bawa researches and teaches in areas of globalization, human rights, postcolonial African feminisms, development studies, social change, women's rights and empowerment discourses in Sub-Saharan Africa. She grew up in Ghana and believes that history and contexts are crucial to evaluating difference and socio-cultural practices.

Industry Expertise (3)


Writing and Editing


Areas of Expertise (6)

Human Rights

Women's Empowerment

postcolonial feminisms

African feminisms

Development Theory

Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Education (3)

Queen's University: Ph.D, Sociology 2013

Brock University: MA, Social Justice and Equity Studies 2006

University of Ghana: B.A Honours, First Class, Sociology and Psychology 2004

Languages (4)

  • English
  • Waale
  • Dagaare
  • Twi

Articles (4)

Women's rights and culture in Africa: a dialogue with global patriarchal traditions

Canadian Journal of Development Studies


Drawing on findings from field research in Ghana, analyses of the 2003 Maputo Protocol on women's rights in Africa and other human rights instruments, this article discusses the challenges of advocating for individual women's rights in African states. The article examines the strategies women's rights advocates employ in navigating cultural hindrances to women's rights and negotiating women's individual rights within Ghana's socio-cultural and political terrain. It argues that advocates must advance a type of ‘specific relativism’ that is based on a fine balance between universalist and cultural relativist claims within the human rights discourse. Further, it argues that African women's rights issues, considered in the context of Africa's post-colonial environment, highlight the manner in which global economic inequalities reinforce oppressive cultural customs that marginalise women and contribute to rights violations. Therefore, women's advocates must also take into account the global economic system when articulating claims for African women's rights.

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Paradoxes of (dis) empowerment in the postcolony: women, culture and social capital in Ghana

Third World Quarterly


This article troubles conceptions of empowerment that both reinforce or seek to reject tenets of current neoliberalism by positing the problem of how empowerment should be conceptualised as a borderline illegitimate, non-loyal way of dealing with substan- tive gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa. Radical postmodern, so-called progressive notions of empowerment always seem to seek a certain dismantling of structures through deconstruction, without o ering a concrete material basis for livelihood activities ‘in the meantime’. Moreover, a conception of empowerment hinged on making women reap economic bene ts in the current economic environment that does not question the ways in which such bene ts reinforce the very systems of oppression and marginalisation does little to advance the sustainable progressive systemic change necessary for consolidating women’s empowerment and empowered identities. This paper, thus, argues for a materially based conception of empowerment that is realisable through socio-cultural recognition of women’s in uences in traditional spheres: within the realm of reproductive labour while recognising the other non-traditional validation mechanisms. Discussions of empower- ment ultimately call for a critique of power: global, economic and cultural, and of the power structures that shape discourses, experiences and practices of empowerment (global, national, local and ethnic).

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Christianity, tradition, and gender inequality in postcolonial Ghana

African Geographical Review


n postcolonial societies, emancipation and empowerment are often dialectically situated within colonial discourses of oppression and disempowerment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the potential of religious institutions to contribute positively to women’s liberation is highly debatable. In particular, women’s ability to interpret Christian religious doctrine to advance their desire for equal rights depends largely on other leveraging factors such as education and socioeconomic status. This paper discusses field research findings in Ghana that suggest that while Christian religious ideologies reinforce cultural beliefs about women’s subservience, participants in this study find that critical engagements with religious or cultural ideologies can contribute to deconstructing patriarchal interpretations of religious or cultural beliefs that marginalize women. These interpretations of otherwise oppressive provisions in the Bible are found to contribute to women’s activism for gender equality in terms of their conception of what constitutes equality and the divine backing for it.

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Autonomy and policy independence in Africa: a review of NGO development challenges

Development in Practice


Drawing on empirical data gathered from discussions with executive directors of NGOs in Ghana, this paper critically analyses the complex multi-tier relationships between NGOs and their donor partners and how these affect outcomes of their development projects in Ghana. The paper discusses how experiences with funding agencies inform crucial shifts in NGO programming for poverty alleviation. This paper argues that, given their (NGOs') peculiar positioning in development practice, a critical appraisal of power dynamics central to NGO operations (such as funding and ownership of development projects) is crucial to proposing new strategies of engagement with NGO activity in Africa.

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