Did Sexism Push Julia Gillard Out Of Office?
Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has lost the leadership of her party to the man she herself deposed three years ago.
On Wednesday, Kevin Rudd beat Gillard in a ballot of Members of Parliament by a margin of 57 to 45 to become Labor party leader. This is only the second time a sitting Australian prime minister has been removed from their first term in office by their party; Rudd was the first.
The infighting between the two has been going on for a while, and The Sydney Morning Herald explains what finally happened:
Gillard laid down the challenge to Rudd when she called on Wednesday for a do-or-die ballot, on the condition that the loser retire from parliament to end the debilitating Labor leadership war.
Shortly after the vote Gillard confirmed she would not contest the next election. This will lead to a cabinet reshuffle, and several former Gillard ministers have already stated their intention to resign.
In her resignation speech, which you can watch here, Gillard spoke about her experience as party leader and Prime Minister:
“Three years ago I had the very great honour of being elected as Labor leader … This privilege was truly humbling,” she said.
She then pointed out that she had faced a minority Parliament and internal division within her own party.
“It has not been an easy environment to work in,” she said.
Was Gillard Forced Out By Sexism?
It’s certainly well known that women politicians have to endure sexist comments. Care2′s Kristina Chew cited the infamous fundraiser for the Australian Liberal Party that featured a Moroccan quail dish described on the menu as “Julia Gillard Kentucky fried quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box.”
If you need more proof of how female politicians are derided, take a look at The Guardian’s “Top 10 sexist moments in politics.”
And yet, Gillard has much to be proud of. In spite of a minority government, her achievements include:
* Australia’s first National Disability Insurance Scheme
* Introduction of carbon pricing and an Emissions Trading Scheme which has reduced carbon emissions in Australia between 8-11 percent
* A revolutionary overhaul of the entire primary and secondary education sector
* Seeing Australia take up a seat on the UN security for the first time
* Instituting life-changing policies for improvements in indigenous literacy.
Then there was her famous speech last year: “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.” By “this man,” she was referring to Tony Abbott, the leader of the Liberal Party.
Gillard Does Have Her Flaws
* She has not legalized abortion in Australia: abortion laws vary by state, and leave very little room for a woman’s choice.
* Her treatment of asylum-seekers and of aboriginal communities was atrocious, a human rights shame.
* She oversaw cuts in payments to over 80,000 single parent families, which brought the United Nations to ask the Australian Government to explain this devastating attack on the rights of single parents.
* Last April both Gillard and Tony Abbott rejected calls for a vote on same-sex marriage.
Targeted Because She Is Female
But Gillard has endured vicious taunts because she is a woman.
As The Telegraph explains, her detractors latched on to her gender as a weakness, and never let up:
Opposition MPs reminded the public that the childless and unmarried Gillard was “deliberately barren”. The opposition leader and members of his shadow cabinet stood in front of protest signs describing the PM as a “bitch” and “witch”. Radio commentators suggested her beloved father “died of shame” and that she should be “dumped in a chaffbag and thrown out to sea” and asked, to her face, if her partner was gay. She was criticised after showing her cleavage in parliament, and even Germaine Greer appeared on television to say that Gillard’s “arse was fat”.
No man would ever be subjected to such atrocious attacks.
She is however a very smart woman, and I believe she summed herself up accurately today, as reported by The Guardian:
“The reaction to being the first female PM does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership,” she said.
“I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.”
“What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that.”
What do you think? Was Gillard ousted by sexism?