Catholic women of Australia have vowed to take on the fight against domestic violence and human trafficking after campaigns against the two growing issues were among six resolutions adopted at the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO) general assembly in Portugal last October.
The WUCWO stand against domestic violence in particular could not have come at a more fitting time for Australia, said Catholic Women’s League (CWL)national president Carolyn Metcalfe.
“A lot of our member organisations are working very closely on this within their own states.
“We’re all centred on what we can do to combat this situation.”
The two issues will headline the CWL national conference at Parramatta next month.
The main focus of the conference is to help women “be aware” of the issue and of “what they can do to overcome it”, she said.
CatholicCare Sydney recently reported a sharp increase in the number of calls to its Parent Line NSW counselling service from families experiencing domestic violence.
In the first half of 2015 the service received an average of 50 calls per month, more than double the number of calls received during the same period in 2014.
The rise in calls reflects the frequency of domestic violence across Australia, and the heightened public awareness campaign surrounding the issue.
While the majority of calls came from mothers suffering abuse by a male partner, Parent Line manager Nichola Marsonet said the service also received calls from men.
“Family violence affects everyone involved, especially children, and it’s important to take steps to ensure the safety of all,” she said.
“Our counsellors listen to concerns, validate the difficulties of parenting under extreme stress and help parents begin to regulate their own emotions,” she said. “This is important so parents can listen to and empathise with their children’s often frightening experiences of living in a family violence situation.”
CWL is “guided by education of women”, says NSW state president Moya Potts.
“This follows on from our core values as an organisation of women, and the concerns we have for our sisters in Christ.”
Everything we try to do as an organisation is to empower women, our members and women in general.
Mrs Potts said it was important for a women’s organisation such as CWL not to shy away from social challenges.
“Sadly these situations occur in many homes, in many families, and we need to let them know that there are avenues available for them.”
The indiscriminate nature of domestic violence means the conference would be of interest to women of any faith, Mrs Potts said.
“It’s important for Catholic women, non-Catholic women and women from our interfaith spectrum to come together on this issue.”
Keynote speaker Pru Goward, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, will address the conference on the growing problem of violence within families.
“Domestic and family violence is a tragedy. It’s a crime,” said a statement from her office.
“Across Australia, in every community, there are victims. It can reach any household, in any street, in any parish, any town or suburb.
“For the sake of every family affected, all parts of the community must continue the fight against domestic and family violence.”
Earlier this year the CWL prepared parliamentary submissions on domestic violence, youth suicide, and migration.
Other submissions addressed inadequate residential care for young Australians with disability; proposed changes to television standards; tax reform; and cuts to Aboriginal Legal Services.
The organisation has long campaigned against human trafficking, and worked to support victims.
“Human slavery is still a worldwide crisis, from child soldiers to the enslavement of children in mines and sex trafficking,” Mrs Potts said.
Mrs Metcalfe added: “It’s happening here, too, in our own backyard.
“It’s easy to think it only happens in other countries, so this is why we need to make people aware.”
CWL has long fought to shake off perceptions that the organisation is more about biscuits and baking than bioethics.
“Most people are ill-informed about the nuts and bolts of what we do as an organisation,” said Mrs Potts. “It’s a very simplistic perspective to have, that we’re ladies who gather to make cups of tea.
“These are women who think and act in the best interests not only of women but of men and families.”
From an organisation of more than 20,000 just a decade ago, national membership has now fallen under 5000.
But the structure and resources still exist to support Catholic women, Mrs Metcalfe said.
“We are more than open to meet and greet and discuss and want that involvement of women from a variety of ages and backgrounds,” added Mrs Potts.
The CWL conference will also feature Pat McDermott, Australian Women’s Weekly columnist of more than 30 years, who will speak about marriage and motherhood, and the importance of sharing those experiences.
“Over the years readers have shared their experiences with me,” she said.
“One wrote to say my columns ‘took the sting out of the hard and the mundane’.
“Another thought I could see into her house: ‘You shine a light and remind me to look at the bigger picture – thanks’.
“No. Thank you. We’re in this together.”
The Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, congratulated CWL ahead of its 47th national conference.
“The activities that the Catholic Women’s League carries out in both prayer and deeds do much to bring Christ to many people through the faithful in His Church.”
Archbishop Fisher said he would pray for a “fruitful conference” for CWL and for “the guiding voice of Christ” in its mission.