Aviva's History

In 1973 Rosemary Howard and Diane Shannon became the public faces of a local group of radical feminists who took a stand to stop violence against women by co-founding New Zealand’s first refuge — Christchurch Women’s Refuge. 


In 2013, Christchurch Women’s Refuge became ‘Aviva’, signalling a change in focus, but with the same ultimate vision – an Aotearoa free from family and sexual violence. We now offer a comprehensive range of services for people at every stage of their journey towards overcoming family and sexual violence and its enduring effects. 

When we were originally founded, many New Zealanders, including some pretty powerful people, actively resisted the call for violence against women to be recognised as a significant social injustice. In the following years, what became known as ‘the refuge movement’ developed. By 2009, there were 50 refuges and safe houses across the country. The response to violence initiated by Christchurch Women’s Refuge in 1973 has since sheltered and supported thousands of women and children, and still today this approach symbolises New Zealand’s mainstream response to violence against women.  

So why does Aviva now take a different approach? Because, far from achieving our founders’ vision, New Zealand today has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the OECD. Annually, Police investigate well over 100,000 reports of domestic violence; it’s estimated another 500,000 or so go unreported. Despite years of support via refuge-focussed services, New Zealand’s future as one of the most unsafe countries in the developed world for women and children remains firmly intact. We believed that doing more of what we had always done wasn’t going to change this. 

We now offer a range of services. These include supporting people to overcome their use of violence and supporting children and youth to form healthy relationships. Where a person is need of safe accommodation, such as a refuge, we still ensure that person is provided with it. (If you need to access safe accommodation, call 0800 28482 669, or come and see us at The Loft.) 

Just as we were in 1973, Aviva is, and will always be, a social change agency.