Māori birthing the subject of award-winning thesis

5 November 2015

Dr Naomi Simmonds

The New Zealand Geographical Society (NZGS) has awarded a University of Waikato academic its 2015 President’s Award for Best Doctoral Thesis.

Dr Naomi Simmonds is a lecturer in the University’s Geography and Environmental Planning Programmes and will be presented with her award by NZGS President Ann Pomeroy on 13 November.

“I was a little bit overwhelmed to be honest,” says Dr Simmonds. “There are a lot of milestones in a PhD. It’s a long process and this award feels like another part of that journey, a wonderful part that I wasn’t expecting.”

Dr Simmonds’ research is into the experiences of Māori women and whānau in relation to pregnancy and childbirth.

She says that within Māori knowledges, histories and stories there are powerful ways to understand maternities that can serve to empower women and whānau.

“The significance of whanau and the importance of the collective is huge, as is the role our female ancestors and goddesses play. Growing, carrying, birthing and nurturing a child are profound and life-changing moments. Reclaiming uniquely Māori knowledges and tikanga pertaining to birth and mothering can significantly transform the maternity experiences of women and whānau. It’s not just the physical spaces of birth that need to be considered, but also the spiritual spaces.”

Dr Simmonds began her doctoral studies in 2009 when she was awarded a three-year Tertiary Education Commission Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship. She also held the University of Auckland Medical Trust Award. Her research project was supervised by Professor Robyn Longhurst (chief), Professor Lynda Johnston and Professor Aroha Yates-Smith.

“I’m extremely grateful to be part of a department that has such a strong history in Māori and feminist geographies. To receive recognition at a national level by the New Zealand Geographical Society is really important not just for me, but for Māori geographies as well.”

Her thesis, entitled ‘Tū te turuturu nō Hineteiwaiwa: a mana wahine geography of birth in Aotearoa’, illustrates how patriarchal and colonial ideas and values are embedded in childbirth. Using a mana wahine framework enabled Dr Simmonds to offer an in-depth and powerful critique of the numerous discourses that continue today to marginalise Māori women and their families during pregnancy and birth. Importantly, her thesis also demonstrates potential within mātauranga Māori to decolonise maternities and transform the individual and collective experiences of pregnancy, birth and mothering for women, whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori.

Professor Johnston says it’s been a privilege working with Dr Simmonds over the years.

“Professor Longhurst, Professor Yates-Smith and I are all delighted that she has produced a rigorous yet empathetic, and politically important piece of research that adds to existing knowledge on kaupapa Māori, mana wahine and maternal geographies.”

Dr Simmonds will receive her award in the upstairs lounge in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at 5.30pm on Friday 13 November. All are welcome.