Rabia Siddique shares journey from soldier to survivor for International Women's Day

Resilient: Rabia Siddique said it was important to share stories like hers to “change the narrative”. She wanted hers to "inspire, anger and move" others. Picture: Peter Stoop
Resilient: Rabia Siddique said it was important to share stories like hers to “change the narrative”. She wanted hers to "inspire, anger and move" others. Picture: Peter Stoop

HUMAN rights lawyer Rabia Siddique describes the triumphant Hollywood-movie-style moment she helped rescue two kidnapped Special Forces soldiers in Iraq as “just about the time the credits would roll”.

“Instead, it ended up heralding what would unexpectedly be one of the biggest battles of my life,” Ms Siddique said. While her male colleague was rushed with handshakes, applause and offered counselling, Ms Siddique was given a peck on the cheek, a cup of tea and sent away to rest. When he was awarded a Military Cross for bravery, she was ordered never to speak of her involvement in the incident. “I knew what was being asked of me was not right, not just, not fair,” she said. “It took two years and I exhausted every formal avenue I knew of until there was only one avenue of redress left and that was extreme. I knew it would mean the end of the military career I’d come to love and be so proud of, but I had to take that step so no-one else suffered the same fate as me and so everything I stood for had not been a hypocrisy.”

Ms Siddique shared her empowering story of mounting a landmark discrimination case against the UK Ministry of Defence – and winning – on Friday, as part of the eighth Newcastle International Women’s Day Business Breakfast, organised by the Equal Futures Project. “The win was not in the win, the win was in the lessons that came from the journey,” she said. “It’s about the power of the one. We all have it within us to create ripples of change. Will you harness that capacity to be the change you want to see in the world?

“We are on the precipice of a beautiful revolution where we as a people are taking back agency, taking back control, where we are demanding more of ourselves, our community and our leaders. Women are now coming together in unity and realising our power comes from when we once again lift each other up and help fan each others’ flames so our fires can burn brightly.”

Ms Siddique – who went on to become Crown Advocate in the British Counter Terrorism Division and was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in 2006 – was born to an Indian Muslim father and Anglo-Saxon Australian mother and moved as a child from India to Perth, where she was “unsure and quiet and lacked confidence”.

Left at home while her parents went to work, an elderly neighbour preyed upon her and then turned his attention to her baby brother. She told her parents, who spoke of the “shame and stigma” that would fall upon the family’s name if the abuse was to be made public. “The police were never called, he was never brought to justice and I was told to never speak of what I’d been through again,” she said. “That left me feeling incredibly powerless and overwhelmingly voiceless. The impact of that decision still drives me today.”

After school, Ms Siddique decided to pursue law to help people access justice. She worked as a criminal defence lawyer before joining the British Army as a legal officer, before being sent to Iraq in 2005.

“It’s an exciting time to be a woman, but true equality will take vigilance, commitment and perseverance – but isn’t that a goal worth pursuing and fighting for?”