Catholic women feel silenced, survey shows

First published in March 2023, the International Survey of Catholic Women (ISCW) provided a first-of-its-kind insight into the perspectives of Catholic women globally, across all ages, Hippocampus reports.

The ISCW was initiated by international organisation Catholic Women Speak in response to Pope Francis’ invitation for submissions to the 2021-2023 Synod of Bishops – a process welcoming feedback to examine how the church might reform.

Led by University of Newcastle academics Drs Kathleen McPhillips, Tracy McEwan and Miriam Pepper (pictured above), the ISCW generated an unparalleled dataset.

Comprising 17,200 responses from 104 countries, the ISCW is the largest international study of Catholic women in the church’s 2000-year history. With a structure steeped in traditional gender roles, the survey may be the first time many women have been able to contribute their standpoint.

“Historically, the Catholic church hasn’t been interested in studying its own population. The overwhelming response we had is a clear indicator of just how silenced Catholic women have felt,” Kathleen says.

“Catholicism is the largest religion in Australia. They make up 20 per cent of the population with women slightly more than half. The church is the country’s largest non-government provider of health care, education and welfare, and employs almost two per cent of the nation’s workers. It’s hugely important we examine such a colossal organisation.”

“The overwhelming response we had is a clear indicator of just how silenced Catholic women have felt,” Dr McPhillips noted.

Already proving a major contribution to our understanding, the ISCW results have made huge waves globally.

On International Women’s Day in March 2023, co-author Dr Tracy McEwan was invited to present the team’s findings at the Vatican and was able to hand a copy of the report to Pope Francis.

“The International Survey of Catholic Women global report has been well received by the Vatican and key decision-makers have taken note of the findings of our analysis,” Tracy says.

“It’s no secret that many women have experiences of church not being collaborative. People see their faith and the church as two very different things and are seeking somewhere they feel appreciated and valued and investing their time and their love is worthwhile,” comments Maddy Forde, youth minister at a Sydney university.

“Historically and anthropologically, the church was where the centre of community was. But over time, and with addition of digital platforms creating community in a virtual space, a lot of people are finding that sense of belonging in different places.

“And I think that diversity is quite a beautiful thing.”


Young Catholics seek new ways to ‘do church’ (Hippocampus)

International Survey of Catholic Women: Analysis and Report of Findings (University of Newcastle)