Julia Gillard tells US radio: I tried to 'shine a light on sexism'

Julia Gillard has revealed that she drastically switched her attitude towards tackling sexism in Australian politics during her time as prime minister, from at first ignoring the issue to then trying to "shine a light" on it.

In an interview on a nationally syndicated radio station in the US overnight, Ms Gillard said she had valued the opportunity to speak to former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other female world leaders during her prime ministership to discuss their "common and shared experiences".

Those experiences often included being judged on appearances and not being treated with the same seriousness as a male leader would be, Ms Gillard said in an interview on NPR.

"I think for men, that conversation starts with: what kind of leader will he be? You know, strong, weak, compassionate, strident. I think for women it starts with: can she lead? And it's a subtle but significant difference," Ms Gillard said.

"So yes, we have talked about those things, Hillary and I, and I've had the opportunity to talk to some other leading women around the world about them."

Ms Gillard was in Washington DC for her role as chair of the Global Partnership for Education, which aims to get the world's poorest children into school.

But a large portion of the 50-minute interview was spent discussing the gender divide.

In her new political memoir Hard Choices, published last week, Mrs Clinton leapt to the defence of Ms Gillard, saying that the former prime minister suffered "outrageous sexism".

"Even leaders like former prime minister Julia Gillard of Australia have faced outrageous sexism which shouldn’t be tolerated in any country," Mrs Clinton wrote.

Asked in the interview in the US about her strategic approach to sexism, Ms Gillard said her position changed drastically during her tenure as prime minister.

She pointed to her now infamous "misogyny speech" in Parliament, part of which was played during the radio show, as a real turning point for her.

"My first strategy was to ignore it [sexism], but as time went on, increasingly I thought it was better to name it," Ms Gillard said.

"That happened firstly in the fiery moment of the misogyny speech, but increasingly I did think that I needed to point to and shine a light on sexism. And coming out of that experience, I've taken that with me ..."

Of the misogyny speech, she said: "I think just for me, you know, the sense that after everything that I as the first woman prime minister had seen happen around me about gender, and to me in that position, I was not going to stand there and get lectured about sexism. And so I think that frustration, even anger, shows in that speech."

Ms Gillard said she hoped there was now more willingness to call sexism for what it was.

"For individual women in the moment, there's always this really difficult judgment call, and this is true whether you're in the highly exposed world of politics or whether you work in a business or you're at a university ... there's that judgment in the moment of 'do you name it, or do you just put up with it?'."

Asked about the lively nature of the Australian political system compared to that in the US, Ms Gillard said the Australian Parliament was a "tough, tough place".

"We don't muck around in our Parliament, we have a red hot go. That's said with my broad Australian accent, and that's exactly the way we say it at home," she said.

During the wide-ranging interview, she also discussed the educational difficulties faced by children in countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

In her book, Mrs Clinton writes positively about Australia and its politicians, including former foreign minister Stephen Smith and former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

The book is widely accepted to be laying the groundwork for Mrs Clinton’s tilt at the White House in 2016.

Ms Gillard said that appointing a female US president would make a special statement.

"Of course, the eyes of the world would be on the first woman to do the job, and the very fact that a woman was doing that job would make a statement," she said.

The story Julia Gillard tells US radio: I tried to 'shine a light on sexism' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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