Fifty years of life-saving work

What do you think of when you hear “1973”? Whether you were around then or not, the 70’s are a pretty iconic era! Maybe ‘the 70’s’ makes you think of Fleetwood Mac, or maxi dresses or avocado bathroom suites.  


But for Aotearoa New Zealand, the year 1973 changed the social landscape forever. 1973 was the year Christchurch Women’s Refuge was founded – the first family violence refuge in the country. What’s surprising, is that its foundation was somewhat accidental. It happened when a group of women in Ōtautahi Christchurch decided they could no longer look away from the raw deal wāhine were getting in society, so they got together and started organising!


“[We] decided to start a Women's Centre to be a base for meetings and consciousness raising about the oppression of women and to plan actions to improve women's rights […] 

We rented half a house in Kilmore Street, paying the rent with donation pledges. Before long women and children in serious distress and obvious victims of violence began to arrive at the door. We were shocked.

It was cause for dissension amongst the groups. Some wanted to offer accommodation support, others wanted to focus on our consciousness raising objectives.

I wanted to do both.

A compromise was quickly reached. We rented the other half of the house as a refuge for women and children who were victims of violence.”

-        A brief recollection from Rose, one of many founders


That refuge not only led to the creation of others across the country, but it was to continue evolving alongside the society it served, until in 2013, it became Aviva. Now we offer family violence, and sexual violence support and education programmes for adults and tamariki of all genders. Our services now also include assisting with home security, financial loans, work with Pasifika aiga, and working with users of violence.


“We realised that being a crisis service for women and children only was not going to solve the big intergenerational issues that were causing violence in our community.

“We needed to work proactively in the preventative violence and education space to ensure long-term solutions in our community. Being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff was critical, but it was also a band-aid across wider societal issues and causes of violence.”

-        Gwenda Kendrew, General Manager, Operations


Half a century on, we have supported more than 50,000 people to live free from violence. Our name, the world around us and how we work has changed. But our mahi of breaking cycles of violence, and social justice and advocacy has not.


Our journey

1973 – Founded as Christchurch Women's Refuge, beginning the family violence refuge movement in NZ

1981 – National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges founded

1995 – Christchurch Women's Refuge partnership with the Police Established

1998 – Launch our children's services

2007 – Christchurch Women's Refuge launches “Igniting Change” campaign across Canterbury

2011 – Christchurch Women's Refuge supports thousands of people affected by violence, following the Christchurch earthquakes

2012 – Start ReachOut service, working with people who use violence | Start Safe@home, which keeps people safe in their own homes

2013 – Become Aviva

2014 - Start offering no interest loans |Launch Sexual Violence Support Services | Peer Support Services start

2016 – Aviva co-founds The Loft/Ki Te Tihi

2020 – 21 - Support thousands of people to stay safe through two lockdowns |Launch Seuga for Pasifika families

2023 – Celebrate 50 years!