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Production   /  Karina Holden

Strong Female Lead

A documentary film about the shape and sound of sexism in Australian politics.


Impact areas




  • DIRECTOR Tosca Looby

  • PRODUCER Karina Holden



One in three Australian women experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Australia’s first and only female prime minister, Julia Gillard, was one of them.

Strong Female Lead examines Australia's struggle with women and power when a strong female takes the lead. Using archival footage, we see the attacks that characterised Gillard’s time in office – ever increasing in their vitriol, and sexual and violent overtones – as well as the gendered response of the public, media and parliament itself to Australia's first and only female prime minister.

Exploring the themes of sexism, power and misogyny, Strong Female Lead examines the issue of prejudice against women in leadership and its ongoing impact on female participation in our parliament, and society more broadly.

Support this project

91.84% funded
  • $120,000.00

  • $110,210.00

  • 28th February 2023

  • 55

Minimum amount is $ Maximum amount is $





Harriet McKern $50.00
Ruth Skilbeck $20.00
Robyn Yeoman $50.00
Don Mackenzie $50.00
Sue Hagley $50.00
penelope hume $100.00
Felicity Sly $50.00
heidi dunn $1,000.00
Ann Sloan $250.00
Camilla Chapman $50.00
Anonymous $2,000.00
Victoria Paine $500.00
Cath Walker $20.00
Barbara Preston $100.00
Daniela Torsh $100.00
Kristen Durran $100.00
Siobhan Mooney $100.00
Marina Go $500.00
Giselle McHugh $200.00
yael stone $500.00
Victoria Lawson $50.00
Julia Mason $250.00
Lisa Barker $200.00
Jeannette McHugh $500.00
Peta Drake $500.00
Kim McKay $200.00
Jillian Broadbent $2,500.00
Vicki Ditcham $100.00
Anonymous $50.00
Anonymous $150.00
Emma Isaacs $500.00
Colleen Boyd $20.00
Helen Grace $100.00
Electra Wiggs $10,000.00
Anonymous $250.00
Ruth Ritchie Family Foundation $5,000.00
Trine Barter $5,000.00
PK Gold Family Foundation $10,500.00
Gai McGrath $10,000.00
Anna Josephson $2,000.00
Jennifer byrne $4,000.00
Grant McCarthy $1,000.00
Brenda Padgett $100.00
WeirAnderson Foundation $25,000.00
Trawalla Foundation $10,000.00
Leah Filley $50.00
Flore Vallery-Radot $50.00
Tracey Spicer $1,000.00
Wendy McCarthy AO $1,000.00
Crookes Family Foundation $8,000.00
Capricorn Foundation $5,000.00
Katelyn Butterss $200.00
Anonymous $50.00
Mim & Michael Bartlett $1,000.00

Issue Summary

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 and speak out 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 appearance is 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 this documentary achieve its outcomes?

Strong Female Lead will partner with organisations to advance our progress in achieving gender parity in Australia’s parliaments by 2030.

Partners include: Pathways to Politics, The Trawalla Foundation, Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia, Global Sisters, Crookes Family Foundation, Capricorn Foundation, Mim Bartlett Consulting, and the Women Donors Network.

The film and accompanying educational materials will be offered to students as an enrichment tool: a lesson for Australia’s young men and women in understanding the role of the media in political life, the international stage on which Australia’s leaders play a supporting role, and the way in which individuals who have a vision for Australia, must be supported to succeed – for the betterment of us all.

We will partner with influential women to increase the volume of feminist discourse in this country and at all times maintain our focus on supporting the young women of Australia who dream of being leaders.


How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

We are creating a 'Strong Female League': a community of strong females who support the social impact of the film. It is with their support that we can plan and drive a powerful campaign to raise awareness, make an impact and ultimately, drive change.

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.

Northern Pictures' 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) has just aired on SBS. 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 parliaments by 2030… and another female PM between now and then who's dress sense, marital status and hair colour will be thoroughly irrelevant.