Marsden success for Associate Professor Sharyn Graham Davies

Associate Professor Sharyn Davies (ASAA/NZ Auckland University of Technology Campus Representative), together with Associate Professor Rhonda Shaw and Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, have been awarded a full Marsden grant for their project, Accessing Assisted Reproduction: Social Infertility and Family Formation.

Aotearoa New Zealand is a global leader in the affirmation of sexual and reproductive rights, yet barriers to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) remain, particularly for single people, people ‘at risk’ (e.g. smokers, people with STIs, HIV), older people, socio-economically disadvantaged groups, disabled people, LGBTQI+, Māori and Pacific people, and new migrants. Over the next three years, this project will use critical comparative ethnography to explore the experiences of those who encounter difficulties accessing state-funded ART in Aotearoa New Zealand, and who are thus rendered socially infertile. The project aims to generate new insights into patterns of health inequity in Aotearoa New Zealand as they relate to assisted reproduction, and to formulate new ways of theorising kinship and family life that will promote wider acceptance of diverse forms of family.

We recently spoke with Sharyn about this project.

What drew you to your topic?

Rhonda, Elizabeth and I have a really strong commitment to the notion that all people deserve to be able to create families. But what often happens in practice is that some groups of people find it harder to access things like IVF than others. And for me it was seeing friends and family sometimes struggle with creating a family that really hit home the importance of looking at who gets excluded from assisted reproductive technologies and how we can help make this journey fair for everyone.

Why is it important to study this now?

It’s important to look at social fertility (a concept we are borrowing from the work on Linda Bennet to describe the notion of some people missing out on ART) for a number of reasons. First, a lot of the focus, especially for Māori and Pacific peoples, is on limiting fertility. But there’s not a lot of focus on enabling everyone to have children. Second, because New Zealand prides itself on being a fair and just society its important to look at where there is inequality of access and correct this. So we have a big focus also on single people, LGBTQI+, and disabled people.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am a dreadful reader – I have about 6 books on the go and never seem to finish them. Possibly I should choose better material. Last night I continued ploughing through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov – I am not enjoying it but refuse to stop before I finish.

The Marsden Fund was established by the government in 1994 to fund excellent fundamental research. It is a contestable fund administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council.

Marsden Fund research benefits society as a whole by contributing to the development of researchers with knowledge, skills and ideas. The Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities. Competition for grants is intense. Marsden is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in New Zealand.