There is always someone worse off... The unheard voices of women from the Christchurch earthquakes and beyond

20 Feb 2014

This study used a life story interview approach to find out about women’s experiences of the Christchurch earthquakes.


After the devastating 6.3 magnitude quake in Christchurch on 22 February 2011, the media gave much attention to heroic stories of rescue, the comments of decision-makers, or people who were quake ‘victims’. The Women’s Voices project was initiated in 2011 by the Christchurch Branch of the National Council of Women of New Zealand to ensure that women’s everyday stories of endurance, day-to-day support for families, friends and neighbours, and informal and formal community activities were also documented. This report presents the stories of women interviewed in 2013 during the second stage of this project. A further report will combine these findings with material from interviews conducted in late 2011 and 2012.

Interviewers used a life story approach to find out about women’s earthquake experiences. Open-ended questions about their lives before the quakes; their quake experiences; the impacts of the quakes; their situation at the time of the interview; and their aspirations for their families/ whānau, neighbourhoods and Christchurch as a city were used to elicit the stories analysed in this report.

The University of Canterbury Human Ethics Committee reviewed and approved the information sheets, interview guidelines and consent processes. Participants first consented to have their stories recorded and only consented to the use of their stories once they had received the written summaries of their interviews. They had the opportunity to use their own names, or pseudonyms. Some of them chose to use both their given names and family names. This report, based on interview summaries reviewed, revised and approved by participants, uses only their first names (including pseudonyms).

Many of the women whose experiences are included in this report chose to have their full stories included in the NCWNZ Women’s Voices Archive located in the UC CEISMIC QuakeStudies digital archive. Some of them also agreed to the recordings of their interviews being publicly accessible. Search the website for the names of the women in this report and read a fuller account of their earthquake experiences. Information associated with each story indicates how this information can be used. Many women consented to the use of their stories in reports, books, articles, exhibitions and museum installations.

This report considers key themes in these earthquake stories. It also shows how specific women spoke about their experiences and made sense of what happened to them and others. The research is an attempt to make their voices accessible, for them to be heard, and for action to be taken on the issues relating to response, recovery and rebuilding that they identify.

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