The extraordinary courage of humanitarian lawyer Rabia Siddique

The extraordinary courage of humanitarian lawyer Rabia Siddique

Rabia Saddique
Last week, IT service management company Gartner hosted a HR-centric conference titled ‘Reimagining HR’ in Sydney.

Now, let me be blunt, to my mind, HR can seem a tad bland. The final speaker at the end of the program was Rabia Siddique, international humanitarian lawyer and author. Her talk titled, “Courage Under Fire: Embrace Resilience and Equal Justice”, was anything but bland.

Siddique believes that great leadership is characterised by those who embody resilience, courage, focus, discipline and authenticity.

Her keynote was described as one that would provides audiences with “the tools and skills needed to make sound, well informed and often difficult decisions under pressure; to inspire and motivate those around you to be all that they can; and to mobilize yourself and others to achieve outcomes and goals that speak to the greater good and higher purpose of your profession, your organizations and your life.” 

Siddique shared her extraordinary story of abuse, discrimination, chronic health problems and trauma. She explained how she came to survive a hostage crisis in Iraq, then suing the British military for celebrating her male colleagues involved in the ordeal while simultaneously ordering her to never speak of her role.

She spoke of her humble beginnings in India, and of her inspiring father who taught her resilience and courage. She described her harrowing experience of childhood abuse, and the lessons she drew from it.

Her courage and warmth, vitality and anger, were palpable.

Siddique joined the British Army Legal Services in 2001, fulfilling an ambition to work in international humanitarian law. After being promoted to the rank of major in 2005, Siddique was deployed for a seven-month tour as the sole legal advisor to 12th Mechanised Brigade in Iraq.

She was selected on the basis of her ability and unique background as an Arabic speaking Muslim. Siddique worked closely with Iraqi authorities, earning the trust of local judges and legal officials.

When her hostage situation soured, she escaped with her colleagues, battered and bruised. She was then ordered to not speak of what had happened during the ordeal. She knew this was not right, so she spoke up about it, and changed history. 

“A message I remember getting after the ordeal,” Siddique said, “is, if you as one person, a woman, a foreigner, could take on the might of the British government and impact change, you have inspired us to take a stand in our lives and in our workplaces and in our communities.”

“That’s when it dawned on me – the power of the one. The power that we all have to create ripples of change. Waves come from ripples. And it takes one stone, one person to create that. Why should it not be you?”

“Stand when others remain seated. Speak up when others remain silent. Challenge behaviours, conduct, policies, practices, language that is keeping the underrepresented and voiceless where they are and keeping the powerful, the ones with the loudest voices, where they are.”

Siddique asked the audience to contemplate some pressing questions:

“How are you going to continue to embrace that privilege and responsibility? As people who others look up to, how are you going to go forward and empower diversity in more meaningful ways? How are you going to change things in the future?”

When I hear the stories of women, suffering and silence seem to be intractable to their histories, to who they are. I left feeling heavier but also emboldened by the strength of Rabia’s courage as a woman.

Find out more about Rabia here and you can watch her 2014 Perth TED talk, which was similarly titled ”Courage Under Fire.”

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