One in three Australian women experience sexual discrimination, bias or harassment within the work place. One of them was Australia’s only female prime minister. Using archival footage, Strong Female Lead explores themes of misogyny, and power, through a re-telling of the gender politics that played out during the term of Australia’s first and still only female prime minister. By examining the response and tone of media commentators, the Australian public and parliament itself to Julia Gillard while in the most senior political role in the country, the broader issues of prejudice against women in Australian society will be explored.
A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing
We like to tell ourselves that anyone with the goods will make it to the top in this Country – regardless of creed, class or gender. But the statistics and the experiences of women in positions of leadership do not bear this out.
There is a deep, continuing resistance to women having power within Australia’s political system, which is built on traditions of larrikinism and machismo. Australia has slumped from 15th on the World stage for gender diversity in its Parliament, to 50th.
We use the example of Julia Gillard to tell the story of women leaders more generally in our society. By walking through the years of her leadership, we increase our understanding of what the obstacles looked like which she negotiated like incendiary devices revealing the explosives of misogyny and how it continues to shape Australian society.
This unashamedly feminist work is being created on behalf of all the young women who SHOULD be going into politics.
What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?
We want this film to reveal the shape and sound of sexism in Australian politics.
We want to do this so that Australians more widely can recognise the problem women face in rising to the top within a system which punishes their gender.
Only then, can we begin to support Australian women into positions of political ascendancy, and begin to change a style of political leadership which takes us out of the past and into the future.
What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?
We want audiences to feel empowered by the gutsy women they have seen on the screen – following in their footsteps to call out unacceptable behaviours, to support each other in relegating sexism to the scrapheap of Australian history and to hold their own local parliamentary members to account on issues of gender equity within their communities.
We will encourage audiences – men and women – to agitate for the 50/50 goal in Australia, demanding decency in our Parliaments and in our media. This may then compel them to join social media campaigns when politicians or commentators denigrate the women who are elected to positions of leadership and/or are denied positions of leadership because their sexual preferences are attacked or their hairstyles mocked. We want this film to put our current politicians and commentators on notice: It is now time to make gender parity real in our political system and the men who can’t handle that idea need to exit through the back door.
How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?
Julia Gillard has agreed to track with the project and make herself available as the film takes shape. She is on the verge of publishing a new book, Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, co-written with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Anne Summers has granted us access to her personal collection of documents held in the Australian National Library which informed her seminal speech on our subject, ‘Her Rights at Work: The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister’ 2012.
We are currently engaged in a three part documentary series about domestic violence for SBS, See What You Made Me Do (with author Jess Hill, winner of the 2020 Stella Prize). This difficult and sensitive series has allowed us to forge relationships of trust and understanding with a wide range of women focused organisations. These relationships will be vital to the impact work we must also apply to Strong Female Lead.
Audience Engagement and Social Impact
What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?
We intend for this film to make an audience rise from their seats with a clearer sense of Australia’s political history when it comes to gender issues and a fire in their bellies to ensure future generations, and their own, are not subjected to the same discriminations or media bias.
We want audiences to enact their rights as voters in this country, swayed to support political parties who are making true and important gains in attaining gender parity within their ranks and demonstrably enacting social policies which ensure women in all workplaces across Australia are not subjected to discrimination and bias because of their sex.
We will encourage audiences – men and women, young and not so young – to agitate for the 50/50 goal in Australia, demanding decency in our Parliaments and in our media.
Measurement and Evaluation
What is the projects indicators for success?
We will be aiming for cultural change which should be quantitatively measurable as a medium term goal for this film: quotas for women in Parliament, an increased preparedness to report issues due to the understanding of gender, a clearer pathway for women and girls to observe female role models and follow in their footsteps. The long term goal for this film is Gender parity in Australia’s Parliament by 2030… and another female PM between now and then whose dress sense, marital status and hair colour will be thoroughly irrelevant.