Changing The Face Of Politics Podcast

Final Episode: Maria Ressa interviews Julia Gillard

In this final episode, Maria Ressa, Co-Founder and CEO of Rappler interviews Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, about her experience fighting gendered double standards in Australia and how she's been able to put her values into action within politics through her unrivaled optimism.






Introduction: Welcome to the National Democratic Institute’s Changing the Face of Politics Podcast Series. In these candid conversations recorded from home, politically active women from around the globe interview each other about the male-dominated world of politics. They're the best examples of why we need to move faster to reach political parity between men and women before the middle of the next century, and change the face of politics. In this final episode, Maria Ressa, Co-Founder and CEO of Rappler interviews Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, about her experience fighting gendered double standards in Australia and how she's been able to put her values into action within politics through her unrivaled optimism. 

Maria Ressa: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the final episode. My name is Maria Ressa. I'm the Co-Founder and CEO of Rappler. Our guest today is Julia Gillard. She is the former Prime Minister of Australia, the 27th, and currently serves as the Chair of the Global Institute for Women's leadership at King's College, London.  Julia, I'm so happy to meet you.

Julia Gillard: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

Maria Ressa: I have read, of course, even in the Philippines, we got the Misogyny Speech. You know I guess, you know, my first question is going to be at 26 years ago, I was a young reporter at the Beijing Women's Conference running after Hillary Clinton and the woman who organized the NGOs groups was a Filipina. We were so  happy at that point, but I, I look at the world today and, you know, has it gotten better or worse?

Julia Gillard: Well, wouldn't that be wonderful if we could say to ourselves, gee, everything from the Beijing Declaration has been achieved. Tick, tick, tick, tick. I'd love to live in that world, but that's not our world. I think we do have to remind ourselves, we've made huge progress on gender equality around the world. The number of women who live in poverty, the number of girls who go to school, the number of women who are in the labor force. I mean, all of these statistics have changed over time. The number of women who were in leadership, that has changed too. But nowhere near fast enough, and not as much as we would have wanted to see progress-wise by this point. And at the same time, some of the perennial challenges for women like violence against women remain, and the contemporary signs are not good in terms of the amount of violence against women, including sexual violence. And then there are some new challenges, for example, what flows from social media and the sexism, misogyny and bile that can come in the direction of women who are in the public square. So, much to think about, much to do, but we are capable of making progress and we have done that since the days that you were chasing Hillary Clinton around.

Maria Ressa: I’ll still end up doing that, but you know, so I'm going to pick up on the tech part. I'm sorry, I'm going to start on all the negative things, because it almost feels like we're living in a dystopia. The attacks on women in the Philippines is 10 times more than men online. I am a journalist, nothing more than a journalist. I'm not even running for office, which of course I'm going to ask you why, but, you know, I have had to deal with 90, 9- 0 hate messages per hour because power wants to use the information in our system to silence voices. How do you deal with that? I mean, you've dealt with it when you were prime minister where you turned it around and you talk back, but what advice would you give to women who are under attack?

Julia Gillard: I wish I could say there's one strategy that always works, but there isn't. I mean, the thing that has historically worked for me and certainly worked for me when I was prime minister is I didn't look at it. I didn't. Of course, I had social media accounts as prime minister, but I didn't look at it as a self-protective mechanism because I couldn't afford to be there late at night, hunched over a phone, reading death and rape threats, which is what I would have been looking at in amongst many, many, many nice messages. But there would have been a significant amount of that kind of content. Now, not everybody's in the position where they, like a prime minister, have a communication staff who attend to these things for them. But I do think number one, we've all got to be joining together and campaigning for change by the big tech companies. There are things that can and should be done to get that content offline. Second, as women, when we see it happening to other women online, we can call it out for them because the person it's happening to is not necessarily always in the best place to call it out themselves so we can call it out for them. And third, as an individual, you know, my advice to women is, you know, have a strong sense of self. So you don't let that nonsense get into your head. I mean, there is a difference between constructive criticism, which of course you should always take on board and the revolting stuff that goes around online, which you should dismiss immediately. 

Maria Ressa: That's all great advice, but I'm going to focus again on the attacks that have increased exponentially on women. This time on women politicians. In the Philippines, our Vice President is a woman, leader of the opposition and she has been pummeled repeatedly, Lenny Robredo, since 2016. We have a woman Senator who is in prison. Amnesty International calls for a prisoner of conscience, Senator Leila de Lima. The kind of misogynistic attacks that she's had to deal with, sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. It feels like one step forward, two steps back. It feels like all of the deeply buried machismo has come out and it is targeted women politicians. Why is it important to call it out, to fight back against something like this? Why is it important to have these women politicians out there?

Julia Gillard: It's incredibly important to have women politicians out there, if you believe, as I do that, merit is equally distributed between the sexes and you look at any institution, whether it's a corporate board or a judicial bench or a cabinet of a government, and you're not seeing around half men, half women, then that must mean that there were a women of merit who didn't get there because they were artificial barriers in their way. And I'm fond of saying in this, you know, fractious, difficult world, why would you want anything less than the best possible team on the field, leading your nation? So number, you know, that's a big number one for me. Then I think, you know, the evidence shows and at the global Institute for women's leadership at King's college, London, and there's an Institute coming on stream at the Australian national university in Australia, all of the research we do, and we look at tells us that women make a difference when they're in politics. Having larger numbers of women involved in politics is correlated with lesser levels of corruption, with more focus on social sector spending, on the kinds of things that women through their life experience prioritize health services, childcare services, and the like. And then I would say too, that there is a clear role modeling effect of women in leadership. And this has been shown by very rigorous studies, including one from India, where girls growing up in a village that had had a woman leader, or particularly two women leaders, not only changed their aspirations for their own lives. They changed their contemporary behavior. They were more likely to study harder and to strive to succeed at school if they could see that there was this potential big pathway ahead for them. So all these things reinforce to me how important it is that we have women leading. Though there is this, you know, viciousness, I really don't know. I often ask myself the question, “has this level of sexism and misogyny always been there and social media has given it a vehicle for expression or is social media itself generating some of it?” I don't know whether that question is truly answerable. Certainly anonymity means people will say things that they would never say if their you know, identity would know and people would tweet something at you, they would never walk up to you and stay with you in the street when you could see who they were and then have a conversation. So all of that really means for me, yes, it's hard, but we still need women to step forward. And then we've got to find the best possible strategies to support them when they're there. And that does take us back to, you know, campaigning to get the social media companies to change how things are done and flooding in when a woman is under attack.

Maria Ressa: I'll pick up a thread that you said, which is, you know, is, has it always been under the fist and people have just been given permission to come out with it? Because we've this not in every part of the world, the young women legislators in the United States, for example, AOC, right? They speak up and, and they're pummeled 10 times more than men. And that's our, our number in the Philippines. Out of all the progress, is it only a layer? I mean is our mountain really much higher than we thought?

Julia Gillard: I think mountain climbing for feminists is often a journey where you think you've got to the top only to realize that the summit lies beyond. “Well, we've got this high, oh no, look how far we've got to go!” I think there's, there's a fair bit of that. I also think there's, there's probably a cycle here, which is the more progress we make, the more there is anger in some sections of the community and the backlash. And you know, feminist historians who have written about the various waves of feminism have also been clear that every wave has brought a backlash. Now that doesn't mean that there isn't progress, but you, you make progress and then there's a push back, then you've got to go in and make more progress. All of this I think is in the mix.

Maria Ressa: This pandemic has brought out women leaders. In fact, their countries tend to do better. And I've heard you speak about, you know, that difference between empathy and strength, I guess. When you know, when you were prime minister, what was important? How did you balance this empathy and strength? And then I guess, you know, today, with these leadership qualities, why are these countries led by women doing so much better?

Julia Gillard: I think there's a little bit of mixed evidence around where the countries led by women have actually done better in the pandemic, but I'm very heartened to see the dialogue that we're having about various styles of leadership. What we can certainly, certainly say is that the ultra macho style of leadership, the bluster, the swagger, leaders who have led like that during the pandemic have gone badly because at the end of the day, the virus doesn't care about your machismo. It's just going to get on and do what it does, which is infect more people. And so this era, I think has put a spotlight on competent and effective leadership, so strong leadership, but combined with a sense of understanding about how tough people are doing it. People have wanted to know that their leaders get it, that they're afraid that they're uncertain, that they're not sure what's going to happen next. And a number of women around the globe from New Zealand to you know, others, I think chancellor Merkel in the early days of her leadership of the pandemic brought her scientific rigor to the forefront. Erna Solberg in Norway brought a sense of strength and empathy. So I'm, I'm glad we're having this dialogue. I think we've got to be a little bit careful when we have it so that we don't end up making the sexism. I mean, I mean men and women's brains aren't different, you know. So it is capable. it is truly possible for a woman to be a fantastic command and control leader and for a man to be nurturing and empathetic as a leader. But because we're the product of socialization, it is more likely that a man will be a command and control leader and a woman will be a nurturing and empathetic leader. And in terms of how we evaluate leaders, we tend to discount women as leaders, unless we see them demonstrating those strengths and empathy. Now that's in some ways a good thing and in other ways a straight jacket, because it means we're putting an extra burden on the shoulders of women leaders. So we'll say I'm happy for a man to lead if he's just strong, but I'm only gonna say yes to a woman leading if she's got both strength and empathy. One of the things that this pandemic conversation is getting us to, I think, is surfacing all of that and hopefully ending in a consensus that for every leader, male, female, we want strength and empathy from both.

Maria Ressa: That's our ideal world. Yes, for sure. Well, you know, I, I'm in a country where misogynists, misogynism is, is having its, its rearing again. So it feels like I'm back to the future. Anyway, let me ask you about the other thing we have to deal with a lot is gaslighting. And you, you dealt with it and gave a speech about it as a woman who held power, who had to face it frontally and publicly. What went through, how did you come out and, and give that Misogyny Speech?

Julia Gillard: I mean the speech itself was the product of a set of political circumstances on that day. But I guess the whole way in which I dealt with the issue of sexism and misogyny started when I became Prime Minister. I mean, I came to politics as sort of seasoned feminist. I'd been an active woman understanding feminist analysis from the time that I was at University. And even before I was in Parliament, I fought for an affirmative action rule to get more women into the Australian Parliament on my side of politics. It's a rule that my political party, the Australian Labor Party adopted, and it's brought a huge change in the numbers of women in parliaments, both state and federal. I came to the Prime Ministership, knowing that it would be hugely noteworthy, that I was the first woman and that it would be much discussed and all the rest of it. And I therefore thought, I didn't really need to highlight, “look, I'm the first woman to do the job,” that was just going to be inherently there. I also thought that it was likely that the maximum reaction to me being the first woman to do the job would happen in the early days of my prime ministership. And it would kind of wash its way out of the system and it would go back to politics as usual. What I found though, and this was the error I made. I found actually the longer I was in power as Prime Minister, the greater the depths of the sexism and misogyny because every government makes decisions people don't like. And when it came to campaigning against those decisions that people didn't like, then a lot of the sexism and misogyny came to the before. So I was living and working in that environment. And then along comes the Parliamentary day where for a variety of circumstances, the debates in Parliament that day are going to be about sexism and misogyny. And I thought the question time of that day, when the opposition gets to ask the government, particularly the Prime Minister questions, that it would be about sexism and misogyny. So I got ready for that, but then an urgent debate was called on about all of this and the speech that's known as the Misogyny Speech is the one that I gave in that moment in reply. So I think it's in part got the recognition that it has because it's, you know, in the moment, in the roar delivered basically without notes, you know, it isn't a read speech or anything like that. And so I think women particularly responded to it because they've seen a woman, you know, calling it out and calling it out strongly right there and then.

Maria Ressa: Were you afraid? I mean, when, when you did do that and I guess fear isn't the right thing, I guess, what advice would you give to somebody being, facing this type of, it's not a dog whistle, it's a gas lighting?

Julia Gillard: I am able to say that the better strategy is to call it out and to call it out early, rather than let it build. And I do wonder whether if in the early days of my Prime Ministership, when I faced the initial manifestations of sexism and differential treatment, if I'd called it out then, would it have been different? We'll never know because you know, you don't get to run those kinds of control tests in politics and human affairs. But I think the better judgment is it possibly could have been different. And so it pays to call it out early, before it builds. Having said that, it is one thing for a Prime Minister or a woman with power to call it out. And it is another thing for a woman in a workplace where maybe she's a junior or new or, or something like that and saying to her, “you should call it out.” I mean, I think that's all gets very hard. So I would say to women in those kinds of circumstances, if you're not in a position to call it out yourself, find the allies, women, sympathetic men that you can talk to that may be prepared to call it out for you. And there's some very interesting research that shows, and this is in some ways heartening and in some ways galling, but there's interesting research that shows that if a man calls out sexism, then he is more likely to have the issue that he is calling out taken seriously than if a woman calls it out. So kind of galling but kind of heartening in the sense that it means men can play a huge role in this fight because they are seen as having no adherence. If you or I called out sexism, people would say, well, “she would say that wouldn't she, because she's a female, you know, trying to prosper in the field that she selected for herself.” Whereas if a man does it, he's just seemed to be doing it because he thinks it's wrong. And people take that very seriously.

Maria Ressa: I guess let me ask you here in terms of women political leaders, what would you like to see happen to accelerate more women moving into politics, right, dealing with the things that you've faced. What can we do to get more women into politics?

Julia Gillard: The short answer I'd like to give to that is we, we should do everything. But I think there's some key elements to focus on. I am a believer in structural solutions, like the affirmative action rule that we adopted on my side of politics in Australia. And I think the international evidence shows that quotas work and you know, people put an argument against them saying, oh, that's anti-merit. But you know, we define merit in a gendered context and you've got to ask yourself the question, if we're truly being guided by merit, how come there are so few women there and how come there are so many men? So I think quotas are a corrective of that. Second, we've got to equalize media treatment and perceptions of leadership, our perceptions of leadership agenda. There is much unconscious bias that comes to the fore in journalism and you may have observations about this. I mean, how many times do you see a story where, you know, a woman politician X today said wearing a white jacket blah-blah-blah or mother of two female politician Y said the following? You know, whereas men would just report. I wrote with a great friend of mine, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a book on women and leadership. She's gone on to become the Director General of the World Trade Organization. And there was literally a report in a mainstream newspaper in Europe that said a grandmother becomes leader of the WTO. So, not world-leading economist, which would also have been right, but grandmother. You know, we've, we've got to get that gendered reception of women's leadership out of the reporting of it and out of our own heads, in terms of how we evaluate women leaders. And then there are all sorts of things about the balance of work and family life, where the rhythms and structures of politics and leadership generally have been inculcated around men's lives, not women's lives. So it can be incredibly difficult for women to have children, care for children, do all of those things and also pursue a political career at the center.

Maria Ressa: I guess the, the, the question now is when I look at what, when women leaders have always had to face that this, the world we live in, but now the technology has really significantly made it worse. What advice do you give to young women leaders coming up who are going to face what you've faced and worse? Because it creates, the technology creates this bandwagon effect that reinforces what we thought were, were perceptions that were left behind or were, or people were too afraid to admit to before, now it's front and center.

Julia Gillard: My principal advice is always go for it, do it, don't be held back. And given the conversation we're having that might sound very counterintuitive, but there are joys in leadership, and we do need to point to the joys. My co-author Ngozi, when this kind of question comes up, always says, when she was a Finance Minister in Nigeria, she got to conceive of design and then implement a program that lifted subsistence women farmers out of poverty. And she says, you know, 20 million women lifted out of poverty who wouldn't want to do that? Why wouldn't you want to do that? And I guess from my experience, I can say, you know, I was Prime Minister, we created the National Disability Insurance scheme. We profoundly changed the lives of Australians with disabilities now, and for generations to come. Who wouldn't want to do that? You know, there are joys in leadership. And if you can be the, the woman who gets there and has that power and uses it to make a difference, then it will be heartwarming for you, you will define your life, define your legacy. So get on in there and do it. But don't be naive about the challenges and the great benefit that the forthcoming generation has. They've seen this movie before. They don't need to be blindsided. We can tell them, we can tell them forensically. We can tell them on an evidence-base. We can tell them from our own experiences, the things that are likely to happen and they can therefore war game and be ready for them rather than have some of the experiences I certainly have had where something happened, and you’re left saying to yourself, oh, I never, never thought something like that could happen. These, the women coming next are forewarned and forewarned means you can be forearmed.

Maria Ressa: Your optimism is so wonderful. Regrets? Failures? Something you would do differently?

Julia Gillard: Oh, look, there, there are many and you know, anybody who's had the opportunity to be a leader who walks away and says, “man, I did all of that perfectly.” I may not

Maria Ressa: I may name a few, but that's ok [laughter].

Julia Gillard: Not, you can name a few, but you also know the few you can name but they aren’t really looking at their periods in leadership in a very favorable, analytical fashion.

Maria Ressa: But that's the world we live in! Anyway, sorry.

Julia Gillard: No, I mean, for the purposes of this discussion, I mean, I guess the single biggest regret would be that I didn't call out the sexism earlier because maybe I could have made a bigger difference on it. But yes, there are individual policies and strategies and things that if I had a time capsule and could go back, I would do differently. We introduced an economy-wide emissions trading scheme to deal with the fact that Australia, you know, has one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. And we didn't sell that well, and I take responsibility for that. So of course you'd want to do those things differently. But you know, the fact that any leader will look back and say that you got some things wrong. If you can also say for yourself, you've got some things, right, then it's still worth doing, and it's still worth encouraging young women to do. Not on the basis that you'll be the first genius who never makes an error, you will make errors. But on the balance, you'll get more right than you get wrong.

Maria Ressa: As you pull up a former Prime Minister, you've seen the patterns over the years, as you pull up with a pattern, what do you see? Moving ahead, right?

Julia Gillard: In this moment, I can literally see two futures for us. I can see us coming out of this pandemic having learned some lessons about the value of caring work, which is predominantly done by women in health services around the world. They've been at the heroic front lines of this pandemic, but their library is systematically under rewarded and undervalued. I can see us coming out of this pandemic and fixing that. I can see us coming out of this pandemic and obviously not for all jobs, but for many jobs using the technology that we're using now to create a world of work that is better for individuals and the balancing of work and family life. I can see us coming out of this pandemic understanding in a new way, the differential inputs to domestic care between men and women and saying to ourselves that we are going to address that. I can see us coming out of this pandemic knowing that it's been a time of increased family violence in lockdowns and saying, we're going to address that too. So I can see us building a better world with gender inclusion at the center. I can also see that opportunity being lost and us not better rewarding carers, us not using this new technology in a profound way to reshape work, us forgetting about the things that we need to do to make sure that home is the safe place for women and one where there is a fair distribution of caring labor. And I think the active feminists around the world, this is the contest right now. We've got to fight for that first and better future that I have learned.

Maria Ressa: In this podcast, you interviewed Madeline Albright. And you talked about what, what she had taught you. You chose to also to leave politics, right? What, what did politics give you as a woman? And then why did you choose to leave?

Julia Gillard: Politics gave me the opportunity to put my values into action and to do things that I profoundly believe in that will leave a lasting impact and who could ask for more than that? But I'm a big believer that you don't look back, you look forward. Yes, you take with you the experience and the shaping of the things that you've been through. But, you know, I think it's better for me, better for everything. If I don't spend the rest of my days talking about way back when but I get on and use the things that I've learned for causes that I'm passionate about and I believe in, so that's what I do now. You know, politics, not many people get to leave politics in an elegant fashion. People get voted out you know, you lose an election or your political party gets rid of you or whatever. There aren't too many nice exits from politics. I think people who go into politics have to price that in. And the thing that you get measured by is not that you ultimately left office, not ultimately that there was the fall. It's all about how you get back up and what you do next.

Maria Ressa: Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you so much. You know, your optimism is so contagious. 

Julia Gillard: Well, thank you. 

Maria Ressa: No, seriously. Well, maybe it's been also because where I am, it's really a bad world where I am right now, but what keeps you so optimistic?

Julia Gillard: I couldn't couldn't stay motivated if I succumb too badly to the other side to pessimism and, you know, I've lived long enough to say this is a better world. This is a better world for women in so many ways from the world that I grew up in. And if you can say that, then, you know, change is possible. If you know, change is possible, then it's about getting on and pushing for the next bit. 

Maria Ressa: Thank you so much. 

Julia Gillard: Thank you. Great to have the discussion.

Closing: Thank you for listening to our final episode of the Changing the Face of Politics Podcast Series. To learn more about the series and NDI's initiative, please go to NDI's website at

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