The Readers’ Hub is pleased to bring to you a most thrilling encounter with one of its ardent readers on its Social Convo session. My name is Bassing Kamal, your moderator for tonight’s session.
Our guest is an associate professor of Sociology at York University, Canada. She is a global sociologist whose research links globalisation, human rights, postcolonial feminism and development theory.
Her publications appear in top-ranking journals such as Third World Quarterly, African Identities, Qualitative Report, Development in Practice, Canadian Journal of African Studies, chapters in the International Human Rights of Women, and the Palsgrave Handbook of African Women’s Studies (Springer Major Reference Works Series).
She is currently, the principal investigator or co-investigator on the following SSHRC-funded Partnership projects: Research/Dissemination Network on the Canada’s Human Rights Role in Sub-Saharan Africa (CARRISSA); Confronting Atrocity: Truth Commissions, National Reconciliation and the Politics of Memory; The GMO 2.0 Partnership.
She an academic, a global sociologists and public intellectual, who researches, teaches and advocates fiercely for social justice and human.
Ladies and gentlemen, please help we welcome our guest for tonight.
Bassing: Please you are welcome to the Readers’ Hub Social Convo session tonight.
Dr. Sylvia Bawa: Barka! It’s a pleasure to be here.
Bassing: We are most grateful and a rare privileged to have you with us tonight. To put the records right about your personality by yourself, who is Dr. Sylvia Bawa?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: This is big question! It is an invitation to speak to parts of who I am in the third person.Prof. Bawa is an academic, a global sociologists and public intellectual who researches, teaches and advocates fiercely for social justice and human rights, broadly defined. Briefly, I am a Waala girl who comes from Dorimon and calls Nandom her uncle village.
Bassing: Wow! Thus impressive! Kindly take us through your educational journey, and social life, highlighting the key milestones you accomplished and your sources of inspiration and support.
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: I went to Anglican and Catholic elementary schools and proceeded to St. Francis Girls SSS. I continued to Univ. of Ghana, Legon, where I read Sociology and Psychology. I came to Canada for my Master’s at Brock University in 2005 and then to Queen’s University for my PhD in Sociology. What have I accomplished? I used to be able to answer these questions so easily. These days they provoke more questions. I’d like to think that in addition to the things I do for a living (and I do them successfully), I’d like to think I’m growing in kindness and care for others.
That I have accomplished the task of realising just how connected we are in this great expanse of the Universe and everyday/time that I am able to contribute to social justice in any small way, I feel accomplished. In traditional (and boring) terms though, I am a tenured associate Professor at Canada’s third largest University; I have published in top ranking journals in my field, I have received prestigious research grants for my work and if my teaching evaluations are true, I am an excellent teacher 🙂
Inspiration: through things/events, people and relationships. I find inspiration in the simplest of things; say being able to eat my favourite fruits/food (taama, gaa, tuo and mangoes). I start out some of my work thinking through/about these things. For instance, when did someone figure out that we could make butter from shea fruits and process dawadawa and use it to flavour our meals? How does the process of doing A, B or C define a people? I should stop before I take us all on intricate histories of colonialism and culture making.
Support: I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive family! My parents regularly reminded us that they would sell their last possessions to get us through school. We were only limited by our imaginations, it would seem. I loved to read and escape my immediate social reality in the pages of the books I read. I read everything, from Tintin, Obelix to Greek Tragedies. Basically it was anything we could find in the then Wa regional Library which was located right at Nurses Quartres. The stories of places, people and events, fictional as some of them were, inspired me to want to write, travel and see more of the world.
Finally, I have also been inspired tremendously by social justice activists and kind people. I think kindness has a way of evoking inspiration and nurturing potential.
Bassing: May you share with Readers, your fond or dreadful memories, and remarkable experiences or challenges, gathered transcending your childhood, youth, and adult life and how those memories, experiences and challenges built your personality and relationships with the rest of society?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Hah! These questions are intriguing on a number of levels. Where to begin, is perhaps not so much the question as much as the when and how. At each stage of my life or even within certain periods of my life, I’ve been lucky to experience a range of multiple, sometimes, confusing events. For instance, for a long time, I was terrified of ghosts and ghost-stories. I probably still am.And yet, I am endlessly intrigued and fascinated by these stories and other stories that transcend our physical realm. I love science fiction, afrofuturistic work because they remind me of the stories and events of my childhood. I have a vivid imagination and only others who ‘suffer’ this may understand.
I absolutely dreaded coming home from school to no lunch! It was not so much that I wanted food as much as the fact that I would not get a chance to escape to the library before been drafted into house-chores. Like other houses in quarters, my mother brewed pito as a side hustle (She is a retired nurse and midwife and one of the most tenacious and ambitious people I know).
I will spare you details of the work that comes with growing up in such a house. So, I dreaded housework. It was hard to be as lost in it as I could be in an adventure book. At the same time, I loved going to the farm on Saturdays; not for the work as much as the experience of going to Piisi for Koose and janjaga after the day’s work was done; sitting in the bucket the tractor/ truck with other kids whose parents also farmed in Bamahu and just being kids/silly. Selling ice-water with other quatres kids and especially Ice-blocks during the Ramadan season was cool too but I suppose the most exhilarating as a child was mango hunting at dawn with a bunch of other kids.
The thrill of outsmarting watchmen or being chased (never caught though); and racing to mango trees at the outset of windy thunderstorms to compete for falling mangos were all fantastic childhood memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s hard to see and or say how they made me in particular ways; it would be misleading to attempt to do this. I mean I could do some proper psychoanalysis and produce some brilliant philosophy on the subject but for now, suffice it to say that I am a very grateful fellow.
I don’t recall what it is we did not have or what I yearned for; I remember these beautiful things. Two really sad memories related to this time (but occurring much later) were losing my childhood best friend, Cynthia Sanche and a close family friend who to all intents and purposes was a brother, Edmund Chiarraah (Biibii). Their loses were gut wrenching in ways I could not have imagined and it was all the more devastating that I could not be home to bid them farewell. But I am so grateful they were part of that magical timeline or lifetime.
Relationship with the rest of society: I try to be kind to everyone I meet. I try to be helpful. I remember that I have always had the kindness of strangers in the most unlikely circumstances. For instance, I was a non-residential student affiliated with Legon Hall my first year at Legon. I decided to randomly ask people to allow me to ‘perch them’. I stood inside Akuafo hall and just approached other students. You see, in my year group from Assisi, only two of us made it into Legon and both of us were ‘non-re’ (non-residential students). Eventually, one of the students said yes and that was how my first year ‘perching’ in Akuafo Hall happened. I bounced around as a ‘perchee’ until I got residence in 3rd yr. or so in my own hall, Legon hall.
Bassing: You may please share with Readers, the core values, beliefs, and principles which vividly define your true personality.
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Fundamentally, I believe in the inherent equality of all people and in the human rights of every human being. I was raised to value fairness and I saw that fairness in how my parents equitably distributed resources. I also value uniqueness and difference in people. I am so easily bored by homogeneity and group-thinks. I know creativity is found in the most unlikely places and I think suppressing difference is the biggest failing of any society. I grew up with a father who neither stifled my curiosity nor my challenge.
The man is a typical and exemplary African man; not only did he defer to my mom’s leadership he also held family meetings where each of us could share our opinions and ideas. That relationship with my parents informs my disappointments with leaders who cannot take criticism as well as with the distortion of our culture. Anyone in a position of power who uses culture to suppress dissent, free expression or marginalise and oppress others is a disgrace to our forebears and a bad ambassador for the future generations. Our people say “N taang bebe mang meng bebe” (it is because of others that I am) or as more widely known, Ubuntu – the Swahili version of that philosophy. We were the first people. We could never have survived if we did not adapt to the changing times. So finally, I love a good challenge.
Bassing: Very inspirational with a lot of take home lessons. In a related development, why do you opt for a career path with the Liberal Arts, and what is the motivation?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: In some ways it was accidental and in others it was meant to be. You know, I started out wanting to be a lawyer. I got admission into law school and graduate studies at the same time. I chose to go to Canada in part because it would relieve the financial burden on my parents who still had to see two younger siblings through tertiary education on meagre civil servant and nurse salaries. In any case, liberal arts came naturally to me. I started out in the sciences in SSS but got bored rather quickly and made the switch. Well, to be clear, by bored I mean I was confused in the first chemistry class. I thought, then, and stand by the fact that, the chemistry teacher was a bad teacher. In our first lesson, he expected us to know things that we could not have known. It was weird to have a man yelling at us and hurrying through equations on a board. I transferred to arts. I knew I would fail the SSCE if I stayed in the sciences. The rest, they say, is history.
Bassing: I understand, you ever worked as a Radio Presenter with Radio Upper west. Please briefly tell us something on that career path.
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: It was an exciting time; the first time doing radio. It was during vacation from University. I don’t remember exactly what led to the decision, my good friend and colleague, Charles (a member of the readers’ hub) may remember. It’s not like there were many places to intern in Wa back in the day. It was fun, a lot of responsibility too
[08/01, 20:48] Bassing TRH: 👍
Bassing: The above development notwithstanding, what are the major pitfalls and challenges you faced in your career development as a woman, how did you surmount such pitfalls and challenges and what is your young girls and women who are aspiring to pursue and realise their career goals and fullest human potentials?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Let me start by saying I could write volumes on this topic (and in some ways, I have in my publications, albeit it perhaps more theoretically) so I am merely dropping crumbs here. We live and work in a world which privileges men. Thus, alongside less powerful men, we are seen as people whose labour should be in service to the most privileged in our society, directly or indirectly (look at privilege here in relative and hierarchical terms).
People have predefined notions of ‘women’s place’ in society. Half of the time, we are not even working to improve our intellect, creativity per se, as much as we are working to jump over hurdles. In other words, our precious time and resources are spent merely clearing the field. So we work harder just to be able to get similar opportunities as our male colleagues. Like most women, it is really by sheer grit.
Interestingly, I think women actually have tougher skin about so much in life because we have been so unjustly treated and denied. It is a shame because I think we come from a very progressive cultural heritage which we have abandoned for a backward colonial heritage. We must decolonize our thinking, our ways of being and reclaim our humanity. It helps that I went to an only/all girls’ secondary school but most importantly, I come from a very progressive family.
By the time I started experiencing these obstacles, on a personal level, I was ready. Nevertheless, the systemic barriers are simply exhausting on a regular basis. I tell other women “keep your eyes on the prize, find your community and brush it off, the world is changing and our children will live in a much better world”. I think we deny ourselves when we deny women their due. We plunge deeper into mediocrity when we focus on oppressing others instead of building together.
Bassing: Impressive submissions. Intellectually stimulating. Now let’s enter the classroom. As a sociologist and looking through your sociological lenses, what therapeutic solutions would you prescribe for an economically and socially distressed society like ours, seeking to recover from the vagaries of current Covid-19 pandemic?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Hmm… The beauty of the tragedy of COVID-19 is that it reminded us of the things that matter most in life. I think we’ve been given an opportunity to transform our societies and ourselves. To never again take for granted our interconnections and fragility as a human race. I think we have to stop doing things the old way; our development agenda is whack, really. We are merely trying to be more and more like the West without thinking critically about what (e.g.) ‘macro-economic progress’ means for a meaningful life. I think we have to begin to strategise better and carefully and within a pan-African framework going forward. We must rethink our education system and infrastructure and reclaim accountability of leaders, institutions and each other as our heritage. Let’s ask people to think. For instance, when someone says ‘it is our culture” ask them to define that culture and engage, deconstruct it together. As Bob Marley says, it is long overdue to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.
Bassing: From observations, in the just ended general elections, it appears the contest for a seat in Ghana’s Parliament has become or is becoming a contest for the wealthy, populists and philanthropists but academics and people with very high academic profiles like you, seem to be unwelcome in electoral politics in Ghana. From experience in electoral politics, do you think this assertion is valid?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: All life is politics. Politics does not end with elections, so let me say that some of us are educating the next generation of leaders and activists. Electoral politics is so narrow, in terms of the range of possible actions citizens can take to compel change and progress. So we have to keep engaging.
I have researched this, especially from the point of view of women’s inclusion in politics etc. I will merely be speculating here since I haven’t done research on this particular issue. In any case, academics also do enter politics; as part of the general population we are just as motivated as the next person about politics (or not). Of course, we could talk till the cows return from grazing about the shifting sands as far as our political landscape is concerned.
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS
Mr.Haadi: What are the prospects of studying sociology in Ghana? Is it the same in Canada?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: I am not quite sure of the process in Ghana as much as I am about the process in Canada. The difference may be in terms of curriculum not so much subject matter
Dr Kuusana: Family life and childbirth usually take a lot of women away from reaching their best of potential. As a wife and a mother, how has she been able to conquer all the odds in academia to the envious professorial position?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: You are right. This takes a huge toll on women in academic and in other professions. For instance, I’ve had to carry my babies to conferences and on a few occasions I carried my baby in class as I lectured (day care was closed and I could not arrange childcare quickly enough and had no pumped milk!). I think mothering and motherhood have made me an even more radical human rights advocate than I could ever have imagined. It helps to have a supportive partner. It helps to make a chores list for everyone. It helps to have community! Nevertheless, it is still quite a lot to deal with.
What I have found useful is to speak with others in the same boat or women who have passed through the life stage; and what wisdom!! My mom and I laughed so much when I started to say things like ‘I get it now’ after my first was born. In my work, I have partnered with great colleagues, who keep me on my toes, all the while being mindful of my needs. Collaborations have been key to my academic survival.
Let me add that I also don’t define myself as a wife in the narrow euro-Christian role which severely limits women in their lives. Like I said, I am a Waala girl. As my sister Wiyaala says “te nanbayi…”
Taiba: Wow! I can so much relate with your values and principles. You’re so much of an inspiration. I feel motivated. Thanks a lot!
Bassing: Please where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Hah! You know, I actually don’t do this anymore I think; or haven’t done it. I have long term plans and visions; however, I don’t think things work lineally for me. I also like to be spontaneous. Now mind you, I’ve reached a certain desired milestone in my career so this maybe that privilege talking. That said, I hope I am in a world that is much better than the one we live in today. I expect that I would have done more in terms of my work on public intellectualism and particularly on preaching decolonisation to a pan African youth leadership.
Bassing: What do you do in your leisure time, please?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Depends on time/season/place. I would spend a day in a museum or planetarium any day; I enjoy reading Afrofuturistic and speculative novels, play tennis (if/when I can) and watch tennis (re-runs of epic Serena Williams games).
Bassing: As a member of the Readers’ Hub, what do you make of this page and what do you suggest we do or needs to be done to keep the page running purposefully and better?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: So far, great job! Really. I hesitate to add more to your events because it is better to be successful at a small number of things than overwhelm everyone with things that may not be done well.
Bassing: We are most grateful. Which book has been influential in your life that you will recommend for hub members to read?
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: This is an unfair question! If I must choose, I will recommend three:
- Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of Strangers by Anthony Kwame Appiah
- By Oyeronke Oyewumi (1997). ‘The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses’. Uni. Of Minnesota Press.
3.Tsitsi Dagaremba’s Nervous Conditions is a classic which speaks really well to our postcolonial condition.
Bassing: In the absence any further deliberations, kindly give us your conclusion remarks
Dr.Sylvia Bawa: Keep reading! Keep asking questions. Let us transform the world!Barka!
Bassing: The Readers’ Hub expresses its most profound gratitude to you for finding time out of your busy schedule to interact and share with us some aspect of your life experiences. It was an awesome discussion and we are most grateful. May the good Lord shower his grace upon you in all your life endeavours. Thank you!
Readers, this is where we end tonight’s session on our Social Convo.Thanks to all for participating. Until we meet same time next week, have a restful night
NB: Please don’t forget to share for others to also benefit after reading
HUB EDITOR: Bassing A.M.A.Kamal