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Politics is one of the most challenging arenas for women to break into.

The women that do enter in these spheres face constant criticism regarding their likeability, assertiveness, credibility ― critiques rarely leveled at their male counterparts.

Despite this, both Julia Gillard (Australia’s only female prime minister) and Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand’s third female prime minister and only sitting prime minister to give birth) have left their marks on politics and shown the next generation of young women in leadership that they have the right to a place in politics.

In the spirit of Choose to Challenge, we highlight how these women have stood up for themselves and their leadership styles on the public stage.

Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern chooses to challenge the notion that the only way to lead is by being assertive and strong. Jacinda is a new type of leader ― one who unites strength with kindness, boldness and compassion.

Kindness, and not being afraid to be kind, or to focus on, or be really driven by empathy. I think one of the sad things that I’ve seen in political leadership is ― because we’ve placed over time so much emphasis on notions of assertiveness and strength ― that we probably have assumed that it means you can’t have those other qualities of kindness and empathy. And yet, when you think about all the big challenges that we face in the world, that’s probably the quality we need the most.”

Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech is not just iconic for the way in which she chose to challenge her colleagues to take responsibility for their attitudes and treatment of women in politics, but because it inspired a generation of young Australian women to do the same (as evidenced by an influx of TikToks celebrating the iconic moment in Australian political history).

“And in so doing I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.

“The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”

Ongoing activism

Julia Gillard founded the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, which works toward a world where women of all backgrounds have fair and equal access to leadership. The institute brings together rigorous research, practice and advocacy to break down the barriers to women becoming leaders while challenging ideas of what leadership looks like.

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