To wrap up our coverage of the Festival of Literature and Ideas at Perth Festival, here is a piece from Politics Editor Luke Barber on the session with Julia Gillard, interviewed by Meri Fatin.
“Do you ever find yourself shouting at the radio or telly?” asks Meri Fatin, seeking an opinion of today’s politicians.
“Less and less,” laughs Julia Gillard.
These are the words of a person who has left the stress and turmoil of years in tumultuous political life at least somewhat behind her. A leader who, as Fatin rightly points out later in the interview, has chosen to not lurk, and instead to keep a relatively low profile since her departure from politics. Now, eight years after her sudden removal from her post as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Gillard is met (via live stream) by an auditorium filled with admirers. People are there, it seems, partly to hear about her new book but mostly because of a deep adoration for the work she did and continues to do to fight misogynistic systems barring women from leadership.
Reflecting on her own experience of sexism in politics, Gillard remarks that while on some level she was aware that the criticism she faced was gendered, it was impossible to realise just how much the powerful forces of misogyny inhibited her as she lived through it. Only upon reflection after leaving office, Gillard claims, was she able to realise the true extent of the vitriol and discrimination.
Her book, Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons is an attempt to provide other young people facing gender discrimination with the mentoring she wishes she had access to during her time traversing the male-dominated landscape of Australian politics. Co-authored with incoming Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the book is the result of interviews with an international cast of esteemed women leaders – Jacinda Ardern, Theresa May and Hillary Rodham Clinton to name a few. The book combines accounts of these women’s lived experience with contemporary research to provide varied accounts of what it’s like to navigate leadership roles as a woman.
Gillard soberly acknowledges that the process of dismantling pervasive sexist forces is a mission which won’t be completed any time soon. Citing statistics from the World Economic Forum, she states political equality for women is likely to be 100 years away at current rates of progress, while economic equality may be over 200 years in the future.
But here, in an auditorium filled with inspired onlookers, there does seem to be a tangible optimism. The audience hangs off Gillard’s every word as she discusses complex dynamics of her experience in leadership, from the problem of women leaders wasting time they would otherwise be spending on the issues of the day ensuring they meet gendered dress standards, to a speculation that parliamentary systems such as we have in Australia may be slightly kinder to women than presidential ones such as that of the U.S.
It’s easy to see why she decided to make a graceful exit from politics and limit her presence in public debate to yelling at her radio. Gillard has found a place in work such as this book – advocating change and being a global role model, as well as in her work in education through organisations such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). It’s nice to know that after her political career Gillard is still doing important work, and perhaps making even more meaningful change than she could do under the sexist constraints of federal parliament.
Words by Luke Barber.
Image courtesy of Perth Festival.