Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Sunday spoke about the challenges of working in the “male-dominated culture” of politics and how gender stereotypes are pinpointed by media.
Being Australia’s first female prime minister, Gillard reiterated her stance on the equal value of men and women in power during a session held at the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2015) in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Gillard delivered nation-changing policies in the sectors of education, trade and health care at the time she served as prime minister from June 2010 to June 2013.
She also strengthened Australia’s alliances with several world powers and won the country’s right to host the G20 leaders’ summit last November.
Reflecting on her period in power, Gillard recalled how she faced backlash for contemplating a career in several leadership posts, where women are commonly underrepresented.
“I was involved in getting more women into power... but even while doing that, there is a deficiency in women [joining politics],” she told BBC award-winning presenter Stephen Sackur, who was moderating the live interview session.
She also recalled the Australian media's obsession back then about her dress code, saying that the passion of some journalists to constantly feed stories pushes them at times to report on less important matters – such as what a prime minister wears at a meeting.
“Being the first women prime minister made there a focus on lifestyle and clothing,” she said.
Gillard recalled how media had covered her visit to NATO to discuss the war in Afghanistan.
“They said ‘Julia Gillard met the head of NATO dressed in a white, short jacket,’” she recalled, saying that this had deviated attention from the purpose of the meeting.
The former prime minister said politicians are not trying to replace the role of journalists by relying on social media to communicate with the public.
She also said such online platforms are to be used if leaders have something meaningful to deliver to their people.
“We should harvest the best of this interconnectedness,” Gillard said of social media.
She recalled how Twitter was used to “show instant solidarity” with the victims of the 2014 terror hostage incident in Sydney.
Gillard made the remarks as she spoke to the attendees of IGCF 2015, which is held under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, UAE supreme council member and ruler of Sharjah.
This year’s edition hosts several prominent leaders and decision makers from around the world, including former Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and United Nations diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.
The forum runs from Feb. 22 to Feb. 23 at the Expo Center Sharjah.