Professor Sylvia Chant joined the staff of LSE’s Department of Geography and Environment in 1988, and was promoted to a Chair in 2002. Sylvia has a reputation for pioneering and innovative research with strong applied, policy-relevant, dimensions. She is most renowned for her critical interrogations into the ‘feminisation of poverty’ and female-headed households, but is also acknowledged for her explorations into gender, urbanisation and migration, female employment, men and masculinities, and youth and livelihoods.
In 2011, Sylvia was elected as Fellow of the RSA on the basis of her ‘expertise and exploration of gender in geographical development’, and in 2015 was conferred as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences on account of ‘helping to stake out the field of gender and development’. In 2013 she was also designated as a ‘global thinker’ on gender and poverty in the 3rd edition of Global Sociology.
Read our interview with Sylvia and find out why she was nominated to appear in #LSEwomen.
Tell us about your background?
I was conceived in Ibadan, Nigeria where my father, an Edinburgh University-trained microbiologist, had served as Federal Plant Pathologist. I was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1958, but raised in Surrey, England. I studied for a BA in Geography at King’s College Cambridge and in 1984 graduated with a PhD in Geography from University College London which focused on women, household structures and ‘self-help’ housing in the peri-urban settlements of Querétaro, Mexico. I have worked in, and made a number of original contributions to, the field of Gender and Development for over three decades through my geographically- and longitudinally-comparative research in urban areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Tell us about your career and time at LSE?
I came to LSE at 29 from a lectureship in Geography and Latin American Studies at Liverpool University, to a Department which has since grown beyond all recognition and of which I am now the longest-serving member of full-time staff! Being the only ‘development person’ in the Department of Geography in the late 1980s encouraged me to diversify my original interests in Latin America (Mexico and Costa Rica) to Southeast Asia (the Philippines) in the early 1990s, and being inspired by the exciting possibilities of comparative research, in the early 2000s I also started working in West Africa (The Gambia).
I have been fortunate to be at an institution which puts prime value on research-led teaching. This helped me to introduce gender into the geographical curriculum at LSE in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s allowed me to play an active part in the establishment of, and teaching and administration in, the LSE’s Gender Institute (now the Department of Gender Studies). I was honoured to be chosen to give one of the two keynote addresses at the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Gender Institute in May 2014.
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Outside LSE, I have been invited to contribute to a number of external engagements such as visiting professorships and short signature courses in Madrid, Seville, Fribourg and Berne, and Sweden where I served as Adlerbertska Guest Professor of Sustainable Development 2013-2015 at the University of Gothenburg. I have undertaken policy advisory work and consultancy, including the UNDP (gender, urban development and housing, gendered poverty indicators), ECLAC (gendered poverty analysis), World Bank (men and masculinities in GAD; World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development), UN-Habitat, where I undertook lead authorship of the flagship report State of Women in Cities 2012/13, and UN Women, as expert advisor on State of the World’s Women 2018: Families in a Changing World: Public Action for Women’s Rights.
What are you most proud of?
I feel my biggest achievements at LSE have been to inspire younger generations of scholars from various parts of the world. This includes a redoubtable array of PhD students many of whom are now eminent in their own right whether in the context of the academy, international organisations, think-tanks and NGOs, and who are strengthening and diversifying scholarly research on gender in ways that are applicable to ‘real world problems’.
Another highlight at LSE was being able to bring together nearly half the 125 contributors to the International Handbook of Gender and Poverty which I edited for Edward Elgar at its official launch in March 2011. Thanks to generous co-hosting from the Department of Geography and Environment, the Gender Institute, and the LSE Annual Fund, we were able to invite three distinguished feminist scholars as panel speakers who engaged with a packed Old Theatre audience on ‘Gender and Poverty in the 21st Century’.
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I have also served as an expert witness for asylum seekers from the Philippines and Gambia, including a successful High Court Country Guidance Case on Female Genital Mutilation in the latter in November 2012. In connection with my involvement with the prominent Gambian human rights organisation, GAMCOTRAP, I have participated in campaigns to eliminate FGM (which was finally outlawed in Gambia in November 2015), including as a speaker at a major ‘dropping of the knife’ ceremony held in Wassu, Central River Region, 2013.
Sylvia was nominated by alumnus Juan Gonzalo Jaramillo Mejia (Development Management 2016/17), who said:
Professor Sylvia Chant has devoted her research and efforts to educate and inform scores of LSE students across the years around gender and development issues. She has informed global policy debate, academic, research circles by demonstrating the interface between poverty and gender inequalities. Moreover, she has helped advance the contemporary feminist agenda by making the case of involving and integrating men (like me!) in the efforts to achieve greater gender equality. She has inspired me and many other generations of students to think unconventionally and put our skills, passion, and knowledge at the service of society.
Department of Geography and Environment
Department of Gender Studies