In August 1996 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) commissioned a research project to consider the participation of women within the Catholic Church in Australia. The report Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus was presented to the Bishops in April 1999.

The Bishops expressed their response to the Report in the Social Justice Sunday Statement in September 2000 (SJSS 2000). This statement contains 9 decisions at the national level and 31 proposals for action in dioceses with regard to enhancing and enabling the participation of women in the Church in Australia. These decisions were enacted and the Commission for Australian Catholic Women and the Office for the Participation of Women (OPW) became part of the Catholic Church in Australia. 

With the 2006 restructuring of the ACBC the Commission became the Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW), an advisory Council to the Bishops’ Commission for Church Ministry. A further restructure in 2018 of  the ACBC means that the Council continues to operate in the spirit in which it was established and provides advice and recommendations to the Bishops’ Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministy. The OPW acts as a focal point for ongoing dialogue and the integration of ideas pertaining to women and their participation in the Catholic Church in Australia.

The BCELM through its delegate oversees the work of the OPW and participates in the meetings of the CACW.

Chairs of the Council for Australian Catholic Women

  • Geraldine Hawkes (Adelaide)
  • Joan Hendricks (Brisbane)
  • Patricia Banister (Maitland-Newcastle)
  • Natalie Lindner L’Hulier (Brisbane)
  • Lyn Horner (Townsville)
  • Lorraine Barker (Canberra)
  • Patricia Madigan OP (Sydney)

Directors of the Office for the Participation of Women

  • Therese Vassarotti 2001 - 2006
  • Kimberley Davis 2006 - 2011
  • Donella Johnston 2012 - 2017
  • Andrea Dean 2017 -