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Kupu Tuku Iho | Our Herstory

Kia Haumaru (formerly known as the Women’s Self Defence Network – Wāhine Toa) has its roots in the 1970s, when a wave of enthusiasm for women’s self-defence training emerged as part of the wider Women’s Liberation Movement.

The first class was taught by judo black belt Sue Lytollis at a feminist arts festival in Christchurch in 1979. Sue developed her programmes in partnership with the YWCA throughout the 1980s; drawing on her martial arts and feminist knowledge she created a new brand of self defence suited to the realities of violence against women.

In the 1980s Sue began training other women to teach. This influx of newly trained teachers led to the birth of four different women’s self-defence networks: Sue Lytollis Self Defence, Whakamaru Tinana (a kaupapa Māori women’s self-defence network), Positive Action and the  Women’s Self Defence Network – Wāhine Toa (WSDN – WT). These groups worked together throughout the 1990s to develop national standards and nationwide availability of self-defence courses for women and girls.

WSDN – WT was originally called the Southern Women’s Self Defence Network, conceived by Alison Broad. In her role as the Southland Regional Education Coordinator for REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme), Alison discovered a growing demand for women’s self-defence and a lack of qualified trainers in the South Island. She approached Cerridwyn Young, a self-defence teacher based in Ōtepoti Dunedin and they began to work as a team, with Alison organising courses for Cerridwyn to teach around the South Island. Since training with Sue Lytollis in 1983, Cerridwyn had been teaching self-defence full-time in many parts of the country. Cerridwyn, who was highly skilled in judo, in turn, took Southlander and fellow judo practitioner Mary McFarlane under her wing, training her as a women’s self-defence teacher. 

With their powers combined, Alison, Cerridwyn and Mary organised the South Island’s first self-defence teacher training in Riverton in 1988. Eighteen women attended from around the South Island and Positive Action sent four women from the North Island. The teachers in the south continued to meet every six months or so for professional development, and the Southern Women’s Self Defence Network (SWSDN) was born.

SWSDN became the Women’s Self Defence Network – Wāhine Toa when it was legally constituted in 1990 as an incorporated society with charitable status. In the mid-2000s WSDN – WT became the single national self-defence network, encompassing women from all of the early networks.

In 2021 we changed our name to Kia Haumaru: Personal Safety Education. This name reflects our commitment to work together, as Tau Iwi and Māori, in a Te Tiriti-based relationship and to broaden the scope of our work.

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