Making change through community action: Catholic Women’s League NSW State Conference

With more than a century of history behind it, the volunteer-led Catholic Women’s League continues to be a positive force of change for the community. The New South Wales division’s State Conference will be held in North Wollongong this September, and there will be plenty of influential speakers covering topical issues such as asylum seekers and human trafficking.

We spoke with Ann Pereira, State President of the Catholic Women’s League NSW, about the upcoming State Conference and how the group enacts positive change through community action.

What to expect at this year’s State Conference

Held at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach Hotel on 4–6 September and proudly sponsored by CCI, the Catholic Women’s League State Conference will be a time of friendship, discussion and planning for the future.

“Beginning the conference on Tuesday night, Bishop Emeritus Peter Ingham will be saying the mass for us,” Ann says.

“Then on Wednesday we will all get together and try to build in a lot of social time, because people are coming from all over New South Wales, some of whom haven’t seen each other for possibly two years.”

After catching up with old friends, a variety of speakers will take to the stage to discuss a range of timely topics.

Frances Rush and Sister Noelene Simmons are two speakers Ann is excited to hear from. As CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) based in Newtown, Frances and her team have spent years providing practical and personal support for community members currently seeking asylum. Having assisted 2,500 people – including 725 children – through the ASC in 2017 alone, Frances will provide insight on the circumstances surrounding asylum seekers in Australia, and how the community can rally around them.

Marist Sister Noelene Simmons will also speak at the conference, covering the challenging issue of human trafficking and slavery in modern society. As National President of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans), her role is to raise awareness about the many forms of human trafficking, and how the crisis is impacting not only Australia, but Asia-Pacific and beyond.

A history of community action

The Catholic Women’s League came together in Sydney way back in 1913, and over the decades the group has spread across the entire country, with active divisions working in each state.

“We began as a women’s group to educate women within society,” Ann says. “There was a shortage of educational facilities for ladies in the early 1900s, and we continue that trend of education by trying to keep the women involved in social issues, bioethical issues and where we are at within the church.”

Whether it’s writing letters to the Advertising Standards Bureau or organising a prayer vigil on the steps of Parliament House, the Catholic Women’s League is at its heart a grassroots organisation with the dedication and determination to enact real change.

Making change for the better

The Catholic Women’s League has given a voice to numerous causes over the years, and Ann has personally been involved with issues as diverse as family violence and obesity.

“Our national body employs a Research Officer who is based in Canberra,” Ann says. “She’s done a whole series of recent submissions, and we the membership are called to provide input on them.

“Recent submissions have included: the inequality for girls in regional and rural areas; the obesity epidemic; harassment in the workplace; the Marie Stopes white paper, which covers reproductive coercion; the Parliamentary Prayer; and we’re currently working on family violence and cross-examination of parties in the courtroom.”

Beyond these hot-button issues, every year the CML chooses to support a major cause or organisation.

“Last year we supported the Royal Flying Doctor Service,” Ann says. “Being grey nomads, which a lot of us are, we felt it was an opportune area for us to offer some support. Because one day we could be out there in our caravan needing assistance!

“Before that we assisted a place called Mums’ Cottage at Maitland. It’s run by a couple of Sisters who provide support for families who don’t have any other support around. They can come together and learn things in the welcoming cottage environment.”

The Catholic Women’s League NSW State Conference will be held at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach Hotel on 4–6 September, and there’s still time to register your attendance.

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