Sheila Jennings earns Mary McEwan Memorial Award for feminist research focused on law

Image announcing Awards

York University’s Centre for Feminist Research has announced Sheila Jennings as the recipient of the 2018-19 Mary McMewan Memorial Award.

Named in honour of Dr. Mary McEwan, a feminist psychiatrist, this annual award of $1,000 is awarded to one PhD dissertation produced each academic year at York University in the area of feminist scholarship. An Awards Committee of faculty affiliated with the Centre for Feminist Research choose the winners.

Sheila Jennings

Before undertaking her PhD at Osgoode Hall Law School, Jennings completed her masters in Critical Disability Studies at York University, after practicing family and child welfare law in downtown Toronto. Jennings has wide ranging academic interests that include: feminist legal and other critical theories; child welfare and family law; health law and policy; constitutional law; and administrative law.

For the past two years Jennings has been lecturing, including at OCAD University, Ryerson University and at Ontario Tech University, in the areas of law, disability and health policy. She is an advocate in these areas, and is on the board of the National Network, Moms Stop The Harm. She has spoken about the opioid crisis, including at the University of Toronto Law School, York University Graduate Faculty of Nursing and at Humber College, and currently teaches a graduate-level course about the opioid crisis at OCAD University.

In her dissertation titled “The Right to Support: Severely Disabled Children & Their Mothers,” Jennings examines how children with severe disabilities and their mothers, who are usually the primary caregivers, are treated by Canadian law and policy. She identifies and analyzes deficiencies in care and other supports the state makes available to them, providing an analysis of the role of the state as it increasingly privatizes responsibility for supports, including unpredictable and often complex forms of care, situating them in practice, with mothers.

Using conceptual frameworks from feminist standpoint theory and drawing on Paolo Freire’s theory of critical consciousness, she analyzes legal cases, legislation and policies, as being founded upon a series of myths. She assesses paradigms that underlie current legal arrangements, in particular, the roles assigned to mothers of children with severe disabilities. Her analysis engages with administrative law, tort law and constitutional law, as well as child welfare and family law. Reforms could enable severely disabled children and their mothers to achieve more just outcomes are presented in her dissertation.

For a list of past recipients of the award, visit