Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has opened up about the extent of abuse she received after becoming Australia's first female PM - and reveals she was even forced away from social media when the environment became so toxic. The 57-year-old, who served as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013, spoke exclusively to HELLO! in the run-up to International Women's Day. She also discussed the progress which has already been made regarding women's empowerment and where the major challenges and opportunities for women lie. Discussing her journey into politics and when she became PM, Julia explained: "Yes, there was backlash. I mean in some ways I had lived an easier early life. When I look back at my school days, there were things like girls got to study laundry, sewing and cooking, while the boys did electronics, woodwork and metal work."
Julia Gillard became Australia's first female prime minister in 2010
"But really they were teaching us to aim high and then I got to go to university and that message was reinforced," she added. "In my early days in politics even, I wouldn't say that it was that different for me because I was a woman. But once I got to the ultimate leadership position as prime minister, the first woman to serve, it clearly was a very gendered environment." In 2012, Julia's speech against misogyny in parliament was seen around the world, in which she alleged sexism from opposition leader Tony Abbott.
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Elaborating further, the former politician explained: "If anything, it got more gendered over time as we continued to govern people inevitably critical of some things that government does. The gendered insult became the go-to political weapon." She added: "I thought it was so obvious I was the first woman to do the job, I didn't need to wander around saying it every day. But as I saw more and more of the backlash, then I did want to give it a shove and shine a light on it and try and get a better debate happening about how we truly include women in leadership positions."
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When asked if she would like to see more women in politics, Julia - who delivered an inspiring speech at WE Day - replied: "I most assuredly do. Here in the UK, I am leading an institute at Kings College called The Global Institute for Women's leadership - I get to do that with a fantastic team and our mission is to say whatever walk of life it is, women should be coming through in equal numbers as men.
"Currently, if we look at the parliaments of the world, only 23 percent of parliamentarians are women and you can name the number of women leaders with your fingers - you don't really need to use too much more than your two hands to do that. There is a lot of change that is necessary if we are going to be in a world where it is as routine to see a woman being a president and prime minister as it to see a man serving in those roles."
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Opening up about her start in politics, Julia revealed: "I was very much inspired by the mother of a friend of mine who turned out to be the first woman to ever leave the state of Victoria in Australia - so a local leader breaking the mould. There had never been a woman do it before. I looked at that and thought that was pretty special but it also lured me into a little bit of false hope because I thought, 'Women are getting places now, this is going to be really quick. We will live in a gender equal world really soon.' And here we are, all these years later and there are still things to fight for."
The former politician has supported Hillary Clinton's work
It seems Julia's mother and fellow female politicians from around the world have been the biggest influence on her life. "The big influencers on me include my mother who is no longer with us," Julia shared. "She was a big shaper in my life. There have been other women who have inspired me on my political journey. I have been admiring the work of Hillary Clinton and the sheer bravery she has shown in often very adverse circumstances. I am also very admiring of a number of leaders from other parts of the world, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for example and Christine Lagarde from the International Monetary Fund."
Meanwhile, Julia was also full of praise of all the efforts from the British royal family – in particular, the Duchess of Sussex. On the topic of joining Meghan at a panel on International Women's Day, she revealed: "For me, this year's International Women's Day will be incredibly special, I will be at Kings College where The Global Institute for Women's leadership is. I will be on a panel, discussing issues about women's empowerment and women's education. The panellists include the Duchess of Sussex, who has made an appearance here at WE with Prince Harry."
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"I had the opportunity today to say hello, and it will be great to hear her thoughts on how we move to that more gender-equal world. I know that she is someone who is very passionate about the cause of equality, as is Prince Harry and he demonstrated that in his speech today and certainly revved up the crowd." However, this isn't the first time Julia has worked closely with members of the British royals. "I also chaired the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia which the Queen plays such a special leadership role in," she added. "I had some exposure to the royal family then but it is tremendous to see the way the young royal family is raising issues that need to be discussed and really inspiring young people - and I have witnessed that with my own eyes today."
Julia has backed our social media campaign, #HelloToKindness
Not a stranger to the limelight and perils of social media, Julia also gave her backing to our campaign, #HelloToKindness, to champion positivity online. "Well I am so glad that HELLO! has launched this campaign because we do need to see more kindness and more civility online," she said. "I remember from the days I was prime minister, I wouldn't often look at the social media feed. But I would look at it sometimes and it would be full of, you know, disgusting things, things I wouldn't want to repeat."
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Detailing the extent of online abuse, Julia continued: "They certainly included threats of physical harm and violence, and just horrible caricaturing of how you looked and how you spoke and what you did. I remember thinking to myself as a female leader, if I just kept immersing myself in this environment, it would just be toxic.
"So I would love to live in a world, where women leaders no matter what their walk of life, who they are or what they are leading, women who are in the public eye could engage with social media. And sure, people can criticize from time to time, that's fine. But it doesn't come with the abusive element that you see online today. So Hello to Kindness is a great idea."
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