To listen with the heart: CWLA 47th Biennial Conference

By Donella Johnston
Keynote speaker Pru Goward pointed out that it takes a community to address the problem of domestic violence.

More than 250 women from across Australia gathered in Parramatta to attend the 47th Biennial Conference of the Catholic Women’s League Australia (CWLA) from 22-24 September.

The theme for the conference was ‘Listen with the Heart’ and evoked the values of understanding, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, mercy, justice and love.

Beginning with the opening Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral on 22 September, the conference focus was very much on the social justice issues concerning women in Australia today.

Keynote speaker the Hon Pru Goward, NSW Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, addressed the highly topical issue of family violence.

Reminding the conference “it takes a village to raise a child”, Ms Goward pointed out that it takes a community to address the problem of domestic violence and that deeply held views about women contributed to coercion and control and should be challenged.

“Domestic violence is not a women’s problem,” she said. “It’s a men’s problem: 80% of victims are women while 20% of victims are men.”

Sr Hilda Scott OSB was right at home as a speaker given the Benedictine theme of the conference.

Communicating about the importance of prayer, Sr Hilda reminded delegates that “prayer opens up the mind and heart to find out who God truly is”.

“God’s love never gives up. There isn’t an ache in the human heart that doesn’t find a corresponding ache in the heart of God.”

It was a good reminder because some of the examples outlined by guest speaker Jennifer Burn were certainly heart-achingly disturbing.

Speaking on the topic of human trafficking and slavery, this passionate advocate for women and children highlighted the need for improved protection of the rights of trafficked people.

Other highlights included a talk by Pat McDermott from the Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Family Matters’ and a presentation about the extraordinary journey of Sr Dr Mary Glowrey JMJ.

The conference mixed business with pleasure. The conference dinner saw a packed dance floor of women who got up early the next day to vote for motions and introduce the incoming National Executive team.

This team will be based in South Australia and begins its term of office on 1 January 2016.

The new office bearers are: Anne Marie Clark (President), Margaret Quinn (Vice President), Maureen Clarke (Vice President), Joan Young (Secretary) and Geraldine Davis (Treasurer).

Outgoing National President Carolyn Metcalfe said she was very pleased with the conference and felt it offered participants both spiritual nourishment and a variety of important social justice issues affecting women and girls.

Donella Johnston is Director of the National Office for the Participation of Women. This article was originally published on the ACBC Media Blog, 16 October 2015: www.catholic.org.au  

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