Media Release
Unsung hero turns fear into hope for Sydney women
16 September, 2021

Media contact

Matt Levinson

Maha Abdo, inaugural winner of the Committee for Sydney’s Unsung Hero Award, has seen a profound shift over her 32 years leading Muslim Women Australia.

“When I reflect on the past 35 years, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of achievements,” she said.

“I translate fear into hope, but it’s taken years to do that. When I was younger, it was so hard.”

The founding CEO of Muslim Women Australia was today announced as the inaugural Unsung Hero award winner at the Sydney Awards.

A strong advocate for the rights of women, particularly Muslim women, Maha Krayem Abdo OAM has led the organisation through tense and challenging periods, including the Lindt café siege, when she played a pivotal role boosting social cohesion, through to debating Pauline Hanson on breakfast TV on the rights of women to wear the hijab.

The Unsung Hero award, supported by award sponsor Coles, was designed to recognise and celebrate people who go under the radar – without their selfless contribution, the city would grind to a halt.

“We started off delivery services and providing support to Muslim women of all ethnic backgrounds, then we grew into providing services to multicultural communities, including migrant and refugees, all the way from inner Sydney all the way out to south western Sydney,” Ms Abdo said.

“Our mission is very much about engaging and advocating at all levels on the important issues impacting women.

“In the beginning, it was very hard working in the space of domestic violence and family violence, and right now I see the shift is so real, the voices of those that have never been heard are now part of the decision making and the policy improvement.

“This award is more than just an acknowledgement, it is a realisation that women and especially Muslim women can and are doing their part as part of the mosaic of Australia, as part of the mosaic of Sydney.”

Sally Fielke, Coles General Manager Corporate Affairs, said: “On behalf of Coles Group, we would like to congratulate Maha for bringing the community together and providing incredible support to migrant and ethnic communities who enrich our diverse country in which we are so fortunate to live.”

“She has shown incredible empathy and helped build communities, which is something we are very passionate about at Coles. We love to celebrate the unsung heroes who don’t need to wear capes – across Sydney they’re wearing hospital scrubs, emergency services uniforms, the red tops of our team members keeping our supermarkets open through the pandemic or the clothing of amazing advocates like Maha.”

“This award is shining a light on the selfless efforts of everyday Australians who do incredible things. Thank you for making our city a better place.”

Ehssan Veiszadeh, Deputy CEO of the Committee for Sydney, said: “Maha is an extraordinary Sydney woman, and what she’s done is second to none.

“She’s a powerful advocate for a unified Sydney, and although she’s well known in certain circles, when you look at the impact she’s had on the city – she’s the essence of unsung.

“It’s clear Maha doesn’t do her important work for accolades, but we are proud to be recognising her outstanding contribution to Sydney with this award.”

Designed to celebrate people whose efforts make Sydney the greatest city in the world, there are six categories: Global Sydney Culture and Business, Western Sydney Champion, City Visionary, Emerging Leader, and Unsung Hero.

The eminent judging panel for the inaugural awards include:
• Ann Sherry AO – Chair Unicef Australia and Enero Australia
• Wesley Enoch – former Director of the Sydney Festival
• Sara Mansour – Founder Bankstown Poetry Slam, Lawyer Allens
• Cameron Adams – Founder and Chief Product Officer Canva
• Brian Tyson – Managing Partner SEC Newgate Australia, Director Committee for Sydney
• Mike Baird – CEO HammondCare and former NSW Premier.

The Sydney Awards are supported by major partner SEC Newgate Australia, and award sponsors Investment NSW, Mirvac Design, DXC Technology and Coles.