Zubeda Raihman is a peace-seeker, advocate for women’s rights and community-minded volunteer. That’s why she serves as secretary for the Women’s Interfaith Network, a group from different religious backgrounds who meet monthly at Parliament House in Sydney to bring their perspectives to bear on discussions about current global challenges.
Fijian-born Raihman is also an accountant and, thanks to her combination of financial skill and altruistic drive, she is now in her sixth year as treasurer of the Australian Women’s Coalition (AWC) and her 15th as treasurer of the Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia (MWNNA).
Raihman’s involvement in women’s rights began when she was working with the Fiji National Training Council and actively supporting the staff union. In the 1980s, the union formed a body to promote working women’s rights.
Raihman, who had qualified as an accountant at the University of the South Pacific, was made treasurer.
“One of the biggest challenges working women face is how to look after their children, so we established a union-based childcare centre in Suva,” Raihman says, explaining that the family networks of traditional Fijian culture were weakening as people left their communities to live and work in cities after independence in 1970.
“We had about 40 children to start with. I had to set up the administrative side of things, making sure the fees were right and facilities provided.”
After the 1987 military coup, Raihman relocated to Australia with her husband and three young children. Establishing herself in a new country meant studying to earn associate CPA Australia member status then, later, full membership. “I also had to go to TAFE to learn typing. In Fiji, I had a typist as well as a filing clerk.”
Finance is the backbone of these organisations.
Becoming involved with the local Fijian community group, Raihman used her financial know-how to transform a social network into an active support network, channelling donations and grants to help members in need. A few years later, as MWNNA treasurer, Raihman was handling up to six-figure budgets to fund activities such as training for local Muslim women and bridge-building exercises, including mosque visits.
“In the month of Ramadan we take groups of women to the mosque to break the fast so they get an inkling of the kind of set-up we have,” she says.
As AWC treasurer, Raihman manages the finances of a body that represents 16 member groups and more than three million Australian women.
“Finance is the backbone of these organisations,” she says, referring not just to the groups she works with, but to community groups more generally. “It means they have the sound financial backing they need to be able to progress with their work or aims.”
She also acknowledges that by donating her expertise, she is helping to reduce costs. “I’m offering a free service, but in return I have the benefits of being involved with all these diverse women. It is so exciting. I love mixing and socialising with the women. You learn so much.”
Channels of communication
The Women’s Interfaith Network (WIN) was launched in 2001 by women representing nine faiths: Hindu, Muslim, Baha’i, Buddhist, Jewish, Aboriginal, Christian, Sikh and Quaker.
In monthly meetings at the New South Wales Parliament House, the women discuss the global affairs of the day, exploring them from their different cultural and faith perspectives and attempting to find common ground.
They take what they’ve learned back to their own communities and families.
“It’s social change at the grassroots level,” says Zubeda Raihman, who was a founding member of the group. “As the prophet Mohammed said, as Jesus said, as all the great religious leaders have said: if you want to bring about change, you have to educate the women because they are the ones who educate a community through the children.”
Fellow WIN founder Josie Lacey adds: “I believe women have the ability to communicate and to show that religion can unite us. Women are not afraid to communicate, but society as a whole must learn to talk.”