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May Chazan

SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize

SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize: May Chazan  

“People talk about our aging population as a burden. I hope my research will shift these attitudes, and people will begin to recognize the important work being driven, worldwide, by older women, and older people in general.”

May Chazan, winner of the 2011 SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize, is exposing the often overlooked contributions of older people to society by investigating how grandmothers across the world are linking together to create positive change.

Chazan, a postdoctoral fellow in geography at the University of Toronto, says the idea for her research began during her SSHRC-funded master’s degree, when she went to South Africa to study the effects of HIV/AIDS on local communities.

“I thought I was looking at HIV and youth, but all the really important work was being done by grandmothers who had lost their own children and were left to raise their grandchildren,” she explains. “At the time, no one was talking about the contributions these older women were making in the face of such devastating circumstances.”

Chazan’s PhD work, which was funded by SSHRC and a Trudeau Foundation Scholarship, focused on the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, which links Canadian and southern African grandmothers around the issues associated with HIV/AIDS. Working closely with women from Canada and South Africa, Chazan says she was constantly inspired by the wisdom and experience they brought to their work.

“The most rewarding part was that the organization I partnered with in South Africa was able to draw on our collaborative research to obtain more funding and support for grandmother-run initiatives,” she says. “Over the five years of my work, I saw real changes in the lives of the women involved.”

Chazan has published her research in academic journals as well as other publications, through which her findings have been made available to other organizations working in the field. She has also contributed to a number of United Nations think pieces on HIV/AIDS.

She hopes to build on these past successes by exploring trans-national grandmother activism on social issues beyond HIV/AIDS for her postdoctoral work.

“You spend so many years working on a research project and are just thankful to have enough funding to carry it out,” she says. “Winning the SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize was a wonderful surprise and a huge affirmation of the importance of my work.”

The SSHRC Postdoctoral Prize is awarded each year to the most outstanding SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient.