The Christchurch earthquakes can be viewed from many disciplines: geology, geography, history, disaster management, psychology, sociology etc. For the past two years, the National Council of Women in Christchurch has been researching the earthquakes from the perspective of women who lived through them and continue to experience their effects.
Why women? In the period immediately after the disastrous earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011 it appeared that the primary voices being heard on radio and television and represented in print media were male. The focus was on response and recovery, on political leaders and decision-makers, recovery services, security, and the fencing off and demolition of dangerous buildings. There were few opportunities to hear female voices in the public sphere, and photo line-ups of key people responsible for earthquake recovery were often exclusively male.
Behind the scenes, women were very busy keeping families together, coping with the challenges of accessing food and cooking it, getting children to school (often over poor roads and in remote places), providing support for neighbours, sustaining communities and helping others. The Christchurch Branch of the National Council of Women were acutely aware that earthquake response and recovery depended on these actions, and decided to undertake its own research into the effects of the quakes on local women. This decision reflected the approach taken by Enarson (1998: 167) who concluded that there are “his and hers” disasters. She argues that “studying whether and how women in different life circumstances respond to hazards and participate in relief and reconstruction is an important line of enquiry”.
The Women’s Voices project was launched in September 2011and the first stage was carried out by teams of trained volunteer interviewers between November 2011 and November 2012, when a first report was produced for the project’s major funder, The Christchurch City Council. Interviews continued beyond that date and by early 2013, over 100 interviews had been completed. If the women who told their stories consented, written summaries of their stories and audio recordings of their interviews were included in the University of Canterbury’s QuakeStudies digital archive. Photos of some of the narrators and edited videos of some interviews have been added to the archive.