Women’s voices united - Madonna Magazine

Women’s voices united

Michele Frankeni 20 August 2019

Faith, friendship and a focus on social justice issues primarily affecting women and children are all part of belonging to the Catholic Women’s League Australia.

The Catholic Women’s League Australia (CWLA) plays an important role in ensuring Catholic women’s voices are heard in Australia’s federal, state and territory parliaments.

CWLA research officer Sonia Di Mezza said members focus on human rights and social justice issues, with a special emphasis on those that affect women and children.

Having worked for CWLA part-time for the past five years, her job entails watching for Senate, state, territorial or other inquiries that might be of interest to members and then writing submissions in response.

‘I provide presentations to various state branches at their conferences on our work and at our national conference. The issues are important to Catholic women and our members.’


The CWLA has made submissions on: the practice of dowry and incidence of dowry abuse in Australia; the 2018 Human Rights Bill QLD (supporting the Bill and requesting more emphasis on rights for women and children); the Senate Inquiry into the Creation of Drought Fund (Jan 2019); the Australian Human Rights Commission national inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Senate Inquiries into Regional Australia 2018.

‘There was a submission to the NSW inquiry into childhood obesity. Our members had a lot of contributions to make about the issue’.

She said the CWLA was probably most proud of its submission on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018.

‘We advocated for leave in the workplace for people who suffer domestic violence and I was invited to appear at a hearing into this issue’.

Soon after, five days leave was provided for domestic violence leave in the Fair Work Act, Sonia said.

The CWLA is involved in international discussions and in 2018 Sonia supported International Secretary Madeleine Banister at the UN Committee on the Status of Women, New York.

For all ages

Madeleine Banister, who is in her early 20s, comparatively young for a CWLA member, was drawn to the organisation because it was a chance to be with a number of strong women working together on projects they were passionate about.

‘I would encourage other young women to join. Not only is there a range of opportunities, it’s invaluable to be able to draw on the experiences of other women and allow these experiences to shapeyour own development.’ 

Madeleine attended two Commissions on the Status of Women at the UN and the 2019 General Assembly of WUCWO in Senegal.

‘The UN meetings are a melting pot of ideas.’ Madeleine said some ideas and discussions reaffirm her worldview, while others challenge it.

‘At the General Assembly, it was an opportunity to see what the priorities and challenges that Catholic Women’s groups are faced with globally. Most issues are to do with the welfare of women, particularly those in rural areas.’

Madeleine said climate change and the effect it has on the security of women has become a prevalent topic.

Sonia spoke at a panel discussion at the UN on land rights and the right of women to be able to access, use and own land on a global scale. 

‘Many of our members live in regional and rural areas and there is a concern about women from other countries who do not have rights to land’, Sonia said.

Merging of interests

Sonia and Madeleine are both proud of the work that the CWLA does.

Sonia said her role as CWLA researcher combined her interests as a human rights advocate and as a Christian.

‘The research work helps to advocate for the rights of women and children on behalf of our women, and they can be some of the most vulnerable people in the world. It can be a positive influence in promoting the human rights of all people’. 

Sonia said the CWLA was an organisation that provided like-minded women a place to meet and build relationships as well as doing important social justice work.

‘As women we can lead the way in leading lives that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the Church. We can work together to support the human rights of all women and children and people who face vulnerabilities.’

The CWLA provided a voice for Catholic women in relation to social justice issues, Sonia said.

Madeleine is proud of the involvement at the Commission on the Status of Women. ‘For our organisation to play a part in the largest conference on the rights of women is an honour, and so important in making sure that a variety of voices is heard on the world stage. Hopefully CWL and its work will be around the Australian conversation for some time to come,’ Madeleine said.



By Maria Parkinson, CWLA national secretary.

Founded in England by Margaret Fletcher in 1905, the Catholic Women’s League was established in Australia in 1913. With branches in every state, it has a membership of 3500 Australia-wide. CWLA is a parish-based organisation serving the spiritual and practical needs of the community and is an organised voice for women concerned with women, family, social justice, human rights and bio-ethics. It operates at parish, state and national levels, and works with other community and church organisations. It has representatives on the state bodies of the National Council of Women and Australian Church Women.

Range of roles

CWLA is the only officially-recognised national Catholic lay women’s organisation in Australia.

Members are often the backbone of their parish communities, serving as sacristans, Eucharistic ministers, cleaners etc. The CWLA volunteers support the priests in their ministries, help sustain the presence of the Catholic Faith and, while not primarily a fund-raising organisation, often work to find money for distribution to Bishops’ Seminary funds and other needs.

The camaraderie and love shared when members meet in their branches is a representation of women with common ideals and shared beliefs in the Catholic Faith.

Volunteer work

The CWLA volunteer membership run a variety of programs including a Community Child Care Centre in Adelaide; an early childhood play group in the parish organised the WA Australind Branch, while in Queensland members support many rural areas with the provision of crisis accommodation when needed due to medical or family issues.


The CWLA also has a much broader outlook than members’ immediate parishes. CWLA employs a research officer, Sonia Di Mezza, to assist branches and the National Council to research and make submissions to government on many issues.

International involvement

Internationally, CWLA is an active member of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO) which has consultative status with the United Nations and is represented at the Economic and Social Council. Volunteer CWLA members have been elected to serve on these bodies.

CWLA contact details
Facebook: @CWLA.Inc
Email: cwla.inc@gmail.com
Web: www.cwla.com.au