Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it should not rest on the shoulders of female leaders to challenge gender inequity when they are being targeted, it’s up to everyone to call it out.
During the Bendigo Business Council leadership lunch at the Ulumbarra Theatre, Ms Gillard said it was necessary to debate issues on their merits.
“We shouldn't have all of this fall on the shoulders of the woman who's in the spotlight. It matters for all of us to point out gendered reporting,” she said.
Ms Gillard said the gendered reporting reached a critical point with the “ditch the witch” placards used at rallies.
“If there had been a national man’s voice … who could have said ‘I don't agree with carbon pricing, I didn't vote for Julia Gillard ... but we don't have our democratic conversations like this’, I think that would have been a really powerful intervention,” she said.
“I think it's so important that men play a key role in getting us to the next place, where we're judging individuals on their merit, not on their gender.”
Ms Gillard made the comments in response to a question on her recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, saying they had both faced similar struggles.
“Some of the most gendered insults that got thrown at me when I was Prime Minister weren't original, they'd actually been hurled at Hillary Clinton,” she said.
A panel of students and community members questioned Ms Gillard on everything from Michelle Obama to global education.
Former Prime Minister had some sage advice to impart to outgoing politician Joe Hockey and recently deposed Tony Abbott – there is life after politics.
In a wide-ranging talk to 800 Bendigonians yesterday, Ms Gillard said her continuing passion for education had led her to advocate for universal access to education, especially for girls in developing nations.
Ms Gillard said her work chairing the global partnership for education was all about “trying to fulfill the promise that every child gets to go to school”.
“There are 124 million children around the world of primary and lower secondary age who will never see the inside of a classroom,” Ms Gillard.
“They’ll never go to school. Not one day of their lives. It’s a tragedy to think about,” she said.
Unless there was global action on the education front, Ms Gillard said it would not be until 2111 that girls in Sub-Saharan Africa would be able to go to primary school up to Year 10.
She said it was crucial to not simply focus on “head counting” the number of children going to school world-wide, but to focus on the quality of that education.
Ms Gillard also spoke on the intersection of the global with the local, explaining now was the time to glean the best globalisation has to offer, but people still crave a community identity – in her case, with her family in Adelaide.
In answering probing questions from hand-picked panelists on the Ulumbarra stage, Ms Gillard pitched herself as an optimist on gender equality.
“We have a bit more to go before we see true equality,” she said.
But she said significant progress had been made in her lifetime, remembering when she had to study “laundry” while the boys studied metalwork.
Ms Gillard spoke about rubbing shoulders with the likes of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Charlize Theron.
Bendigo Business Council chair Michael Flemming said it was a big step to secure someone of Ms Gillard’s calibre for their leadership lunch and it set the regional city apart.
Chief executive Leah Sertori said she was delighted by the confidence of the students on stage to question the former Prime Minister in front of a large crowd.
Ms Gillard said she was refraining from engaging in political issues but praised Bendigo for fostering a sense of community.
A bunch on enthusiastic Bendigo high school students may have skipped out on class yesterday, but they did so in the hopes of learning a valuable lesson from Julia Gillard.
Year 10 Girton Grammar student Lucy Morgan said it was an “amazing opportunity” to hear from the nation’s first female Prime Minister.
“She is very inspirational … especially in an atmosphere of men. She fought through that.”
Year 11 Catholic College Bendigo student Sam Kane said he enjoyed speaking with Ms Gillard and seeing her outside the environment of parliament.
Year 12 Bendigo Senior Secondary College student Gabriela Giggins questioned Ms Gillard about her mental health activism, noting it was a major issue in schools.