Julia Gillard—the first woman prime minister of Australia—was ousted by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a party vote on Wednesday, June 26 with elections only months away.
In 2010 Gillard replaced Rudd as leader of the Labor Party, and now Rudd will replace Gillard as party leader. To date, there have only been two sitting Australian prime ministers removed from office—Rudd and now Gillard.
When Gillard was elected, her win was a celebratory marker for gender equality. This feminist victory, however, was preceded by misogynistic and sexist attacks fired at her. From photos of her bare kitchen (somehow revealing her to be an overly ambitious workaholic in 2005) to 2007 accusations that her decision to be “barren” was evident of her lack of qualifications to serve as Prime Minister, Gillard has often been the target of gendered attacks. And the barrage of offensive commentary only continued during the course of her term as prime minister, with the most egregious yet to come.
At the Australian Liberal National Party’s fundraising dinner for candidate Mal Brough, Gillard was a main course featured on the night’s menu—“Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail—Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & a Big Red Box.” Brough later said he was “deeply apologetic” and “didn’t mean any harm by it” but thought at the time it would be “humorous.”
In a news conference following the vote that ousted her from office, Gillard said,
In the years in which I’ve served as prime minister, predominantly I’ve faced a minority government and political division in my own party. It has not been an easy parliament to operate in.
While Gillard didn’t speak directly to sexism directly in her concession speech, this difficult environment was partly driven by the fact that she was a woman in the boy’s club of Australian politics. But she became famous for speaking out against the misogyny she faced. In 2010, she called out MP Tony Abbott in Parliament in an impassioned speech that you can watch here. Abbott, leader of the center-right Liberal Party, now has a chance to be elected prime minister in September 14 balloting.
Even though she faced many challenges as a woman at the heart of Australian politics, Gillard expressed hope for future female politicians:
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.
Photo of Gillard from Wikimedia Commons