Educating Girls Is The Key To Changing The World, Says Fmr Aust. PM Julia Gillard

julia-gillard

Julia Gillard is a personal hero around these parts, and largely because our editor-in-chief Asha Dahya is from Australia, so we’re admitting the bias up front!

But the former first female Prime Minister of the land down under isn’t just a badass for being the first of something. Agree or disagree with her policies, (does 100% of any population ever love a politician anyway?) she was also well-known for the hard line she takes with sexism, especially when it comes to women in leadership positions. After all, she faced it every day and had that additional barrier to overcome as well as doing her job.

She was heavily criticized for the way she got into power, but it was a telling reminder of the different way women in top leadership positions are often treated in an area where they are pioneering new ground.

One of the moments during her career as the head of state in Australia that got her worldwide attention was this now-viral video of a Parliamentary session where she slammed the then-leader of the opposition Tony Abbott calling him a misogynist and damning the culture of sexism that exists in politics.

The saddest thing is that Tony Abbott ended up becoming the Prime Minister after her. But thanks to his own foibles, he has lost a lot of credibility with the Australian public. He has even been described as the world’s most unpopular prime minister. Yep, he did that all on his own. It prompted awesome memes like this:

JULIA-GILLARD-MISS-ME-YET

Since departing office, she has been busy. She released a memoir called ‘My Story’, launched a girls education initiative with Hillary Clinton in 2014 and continues to speak out about the important of gender parity in leadership.

At a recent National Australia Bank’s Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, she gave a rousing and powerful speech on women in leadership, and also expressed how proud she was to be known as a woman who has fought for that cause. Despite putting up with a lot of political mess, she was praised for her stoic determination to get on with the job, rather than crumble under the pressure of petty criticisms.

One of the key barriers she talked about was the belief that women and men can equally hold top leadership positions on merit. Once we as a society don’t see gender as a barrier and understand the benefits of having more women in leadership, we will go a long way.

“Unfortunately we are not there yet, and we’re not going to be there until… people believe as I do, that merit is equally distributed between the sexes,” she said.

“You can look at any institution whether it be a parliament, a corporate board a judicial bench, a military hierarchy and if you aren’t seeing basically 50% men and 50% women then that means women of merit, who should have been in that position, missed out. We will know that we have achieved equality when we can look through the structures of our society and basically see half, half.”

julia-gillard-sexism-quote

According to Business Insider, females only made up 3.5% of Australian CEOs and 40% of companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange do not have any women on their boards. Worldwide, women hold only 4.7% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.

Julia emphasized in her speech this wasn’t a feminist issue, a human rights issue, or even just a women’s issue. It’s an issue about how to build a better future.

“Because don’t we owe it to our nation, and to the world in which we live, to make sure that the positions which truly matter, in which big decisions are taken, that those positions have the best possible people serving in them? And if the answer to that is yes then we only have the best possible people serving if we have 50% men and 50% women.”

Encouraging leadership cannot just come from one area in society. The corporate sector as well as private organizations need to do their part to create spaces where women can join and feel part of this growing movement. This list of organizations compiled by Business Review Australia shows a healthy diverse group of 10 companies who are doing just that. Some include corporations like Telstra, Dell and Deloitte, as well as companies like Business Chicks.

These are great spaces to occupy in the adult world, but to start seeing the world as a more equal place, Julia believes it starts with educating a girl. She spoke of how in the developing world, a girl who is educated is exponentially more likely to have more economic opportunities, marry later, have better health and live longer. If that’s the effect in the third world, imagine the impact if more people in the developed world understood the benefits of gender equality in our society.

“If you educate a girl, then she will have the empowerment and the economic freedoms, which come with that education, when she moves into the labour market, and more choices about how and when to have her children, she will choose to have less children, and have them later in her life,” she said.

julia-gillard-hillary-clinton

“Education helps to overcome things like child marriage, the children that she does have are more likely to survive, they are more likely to be vaccinated, they are more likely to be literate themselves and to go to school themselves. If you want to change a nation, to change our planet, educate a girl.”

Lucia Osborne-Crowley from Women’s Agenda who was present at the event, said she learned some important reminders from Julia’s speech.

She was encouraged by Julia’s issue to the audience to continue challenging stereotypes (by the way, those also hurt men, not just women) and don’t leave others behind.

“Gillard said one way we can be sure to stem the whispers she referred to is by challenging them, every single day; by constantly asking people to question their beliefs; and by constantly sharing stories of women that will challenge these stereotypes,” wrote Lucia.

“Gillard said that most of the 58 million children around the world whom are still denied access to education are girls and changing that is absolutely critical to creating a more equal world.”

Women in leadership isn’t a first-world problem, it is a global issue that has to begin with cultural change that allows young girls to be educated, and young men to view women as equal. We owe it to future generations to continue emphasizing the benefits of a 50/50 leadership environment in all aspects of life.

It just goes to show that although she may not be in the top leadership seat in Australian politics anymore, Julia Gillard is doing a heck of a job sharing her own journey and encouraging other women along the way.

Here’s looking at you, Gillard!

julia-gillard

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.