By Nicola Gage
Julia Gillard’s time in the political spotlight may be well and truly over, but her passion for education and gender equality has only grown since.
“The uncomfortable statistic is that with current rates of change, it won’t be for another 100 years that we universally around the world see girls get to go to primary and the first few years of secondary school,” she said.
“I’m putting my energy into how we equalise that and make sure every child gets a great education.”
Ms Gillard has been awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for her services to politics, and is among the third of recipients of this year’s Australia Day honours who are female.
Looking back on her time in the office, she said the greatest emotion for her was one of gratitude to the Australian nation.
“[It’s a place] where you can literally jump off a boat as a four-year-old, as a migrant, and end up as Australia’s Prime Minister, as the first woman to serve,” Ms Gillard said.
“I would like for people to recognise that I went into politics driven by a sense of purpose, by wanting to see change.
“Through some easy days and through some more difficult days I think I stayed true to that.
“It really is a very great recognition for me of the things that I’ve done and the values that I believe in and I’m very grateful for it.”
Ms Gillard’s gender often became a point of discussion while in politics.
Her famous speech to parliament on misogyny went viral at the time, but she said she did not want sexism to stop other women from entering politics.
“I think what that speech shows was a sense of growing frustration — indeed, cool anger — with some of the treatment that I received as prime minister, which was still based on gender,” she said.
“I think it’s important having served as the first female prime minister to be reinforcing to young women who might be thinking about politics — they might be passionate about a cause and want to get in there and change something — that really they should go for it.
“While there still are some gendered bits, really the opportunity you get to shape your nation, to do things you believe in, is more important than anything else and that’s what I take from the experience.”
Better gender balance needed in Australia Day honours.
Ms Gillard believes some aspects relating to women in politics have improved since she left parliament three years ago.
“I think things have changed. I think the fact we’ve had the first [female prime minister] does make a difference but this isn’t a simple kind of linear path ever upwards,” she said.
“We’ve got to be conscious about change, thinking about change, thinking about what are still the gendered bits and working out how to get them out of the way in which female leaders are received and reported.
“Much of this change actually falls on the shoulders of the media itself because it’s how women are interviewed, what’s reported about them, whether the attention goes to what they’re saying or what they’re wearing.
“Some of these things the media can make a difference to.”
Only about one third of this year’s Australia Day honours recipients are women, which is similar to previous years.
Ms Gillard said she would like to see that change.
“If you believe, as I do, that merit is equally distributed between the sexes and you look at anything and you’re not seeing basically half men and half women, then that’s got to tell you that there are women of merit who are missing out,” she said.
“I think we’ve always got to be thinking ‘what can we do better to make sure that women are getting fair recognition’.
“The debate we’re having about awards and the gender skew in them might lead us in some very strong directions.
“When I look at our great nation, I think women are contributing to its building equally to men, so when we’re recognising those who have, sort of, put their shoulders to the wheel for Australia, you would expect to see around about half-half, rather than the statistics we’re seeing now.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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