Has Julia Gillard's anger diminished?

Julia Gillard on sexism in politics, Hillary Clinton, and the future

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Shortly after she was kicked out of office, Julia Gillard confessed publically to a "murderous rage" about the sexism she had had to endure as Australia's 27th prime minister.

So a further six months on, has her anger diminished or increased?

Ms Gillard has only made rare appearances in the media since last June, when she lost the Labor Party leadership and the prime ministership, to the man she had, in turn, defenestrated three years before. Kevin Rudd reclaimed the top job, only then to lose the general election to a coalition led by the Liberal party's Tony Abbott.

So far, so predictably rough and tough. Ms Gillard had drawn flak over policy shifts on taxing carbon, on delivering budget surpluses, on asylum policies. But less normal, perhaps, was the torrent of sexist bile that accompanied Julia Gillard through her career.

The former prime minister, though, appears reluctant to dwell.

"The main thing that I'm taking with me: I'm absolutely confident it will be easier for the next woman prime minister, and the next one after that," she said.

"So yes, there were some things about gender our nation needed to work through, that I personally had to work through, but I think it's all part of a journey, where we will over time be treating women and men far more equally in politics."

Protesters hold placards as they attend a rally in Sydney on 1 July 2012 Ms Gillard faced multiple attacks on both her political and personal choices as prime minister

All of which sounds neat, almost salutary. But then you recall the detail - not even the most lurid, toxic detail - of what was said about her and to her.

Julia Gillard wasn't just an ambitious politician, and then prime minister. She was also a woman, with no children. "Deliberately barren", in the opinion of one opposition politician. A "non-productive old cow", according to the boss of the Australian Agricultural Company. And on it went.

Timeline: Julia Gillard

  • Dec 2006: Appointed deputy leader of Labor Party
  • Dec 2007: Sworn in as deputy prime minister to PM Kevin Rudd
  • Jun 2010: Successfully challenges Mr Rudd for the leadership, becomes 27th prime minister of Australia
  • Aug 2010: General election results in hung parliament; forms minority government with independents
  • Feb 2012: Survives a leadership challenge by Mr Rudd
  • Jan 2013: Sets general election date of 14 September 2013
  • Mar 2013: Leadership ballot called but Mr Rudd does not contest
  • June 2013: Ousted by Mr Rudd as leader of Australia's Labor Party, announces her departure from politics shortly after
  • 7 Sept 2013: Tony Abbott defeats Rudd-led Labor party to become prime minister, returning the Liberal-National coalition to power for the first time in six years

I have covered politics in many countries. I had never heard public abuse of this nature from people with job titles. Julia Gillard insists, though, that hers is not a case apart, that "many of the things that happened to me as Australian prime minister happened to other women leaders in other parts of the world".

She cites multilateral meetings with other female heads of government and state. "You'll gather and chat about common experiences, where there's never-ending focus on appearance… people are too interested in the handbag rather than what you're saying."

But with Ms Gillard, it went well beyond the handbag. Take the radio interviewer who repeatedly asked the prime minister if her male partner was gay. The video is excruciating, as she smiles her way through the interrogation. Was she then, is she now, too phlegmatic? Again, "the murderous rage" of which she spoke in September appears to have been extinguished.

"I'm a pretty even-tempered sort of person," says Ms Gillard. "There are always difficult judgment calls about how much oxygen you give to people who are being truly absurd."

We are talking in Washington DC, where Julia Gillard is about to take on a new role as chair of the Board of Directors at the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Their offices, in which we are meeting, are not far from the White House.

Before we get on to her new job, what of that job? Would she like Hillary Clinton to take it on? It is up to the woman herself to decide, says Ms Gillard, adding: "Does she have the capacity to be a tremendous leader? Well of course I think she has that capacity."

Julia Gillard Ms Gillard was seen as a role model by some and a target by others

Julia Gillard's own new role will see her be chief fund-raiser and drum-beater at GPE, which describes itself as "the only multilateral partnership devoted to getting all children in the world's poorest countries into school". It channels a multi-billion dollar budget to 60 developing countries.

But the terrain is harsh. Just last month, Unesco warned that not only would the world fail to meet its Millennium Development target of all children having access to primary education by next year. The UN agency said that, at the current rate, it would be more than 70 years before the goal was attained.

Ms Gillard declares herself undaunted, even in those countries where there may be a deep culture of corruption and an antipathy to girls going to school. "Societal norms" can be changed, she argues, by for example only paying families if they let their daughters be educated.

There is also, though, the issue of where the hard cash comes from. She says that education is finding it harder to claim its slice of the foreign aid budget. And her first major test is fast approaching: the forthcoming budget round for GPE, at which she will be asking donor countries for $8.5bn (£5.1bn) a year.

She denies that her zeal may have been tarnished though by the fact that, under her prime ministership, the Australian aid budget did not rise as fast as she had promised it would. "We had to make some difficult budget decisions," Ms Gillard explains.

Now, though, she is following a different set of numbers: the 57 million children who do not go to school at all, and the 250 million who have some access, but remain illiterate and innumerate. They will be the measure of Julia Gillard's success.

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