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As we know, the mission of EMILY’s List is to secure the election to parliament of women who are pro-choice, who support diversity, equity, equal pay and childcare.

So EMILY’s List works with Labor women who do, and since 1996 has assisted more than 150 women in getting elected to state and federal parliaments.

Among the women EMILY’s List has helped are Anna Bligh, the first woman premier of Queensland; Lara Giddings, the first woman premier of Tasmania; Katy Gallagher, Chief Minister of the ACT and Carol Martin, the first Indigenous woman to be elected to any Australian parliament.

But the jewel in the EMILY’s List crown has, of course, been Julia Gillard, who is not only Australia’s first female prime minister, but is an inaugural EMILY’s List member who helped draft the organisation’s constitution.

Why is it so hard to ensure that increased numbers of women are elected to parliament? why are women treated so badly once they are in politics; specifically, why is it, the higher they go, the worse women are treated?

First let me address the difficulties of getting more women into politics. This needs to be addressed. What should be done to remedy this? Rather than relying on the parties to preselect equitable numbers of women, maybe the electoral system should make it happen. Maybe it is time for us to look at having 50 per cent of our electorates reserved for women.

That would guarantee equality. That would force all the parties to select more women.

In the meantime, we should be pushing for a lot more campaigning to be targeted to women. we know that this delivers votes for progressive parties.

Why don’t political parties do what has been proven to help them win office: mobilise the votes of women? If I could answer that question, I probably would not be standing here in front of you tonight. EMILY’s List’s work would be done.

Let me now look at the second question I raised earlier: why do we treat women in politics so badly? In particular, why do we treat Julia Gillard, the prime minister, so shockingly?

The new national sport is attacking Julia Gillard.

The Opposition does it. It’s their job to oppose her but they go way beyond the bounds of normal political rivalry in the lack of respect they have shown her.

But it is not just the Opposition that is attacking Gillard. It’s also the media, which has largely abandoned its role of reporter and dispassionate commentator and is now a player.

Worse, is the treatment of Gillard by her colleagues, by people on her own side. Not defending her. Stalking her. Openly mocking her. Or openly denigrating her in sexual or violent language.

But most worrying was the dismissal of Julia Gillard’s (women for Gillard launch, 11 June 2013) speech about women as an ill-advised attempt to play “the gender card”. This perception that talking about women’s equality and women’s needs is politically dangerous goes to the heart of what EMILY’s List is all about.

If the women we send to Canberra can’t defend us and our rights, where does that leave EMILY’s List and the women we want to champion? After all, it is a requirement of membership that women politicians agree to fight for women’s equality. It is their responsibility to take on these issues once they are in Canberra.

As a founder of EMILY’s List, as a feminist and as woman, Julia Gillard understands that the ability to control our fertility is one of the fundamental freedoms women need if they are to control their lives.

As she said in her inaugural Oration last year: “We should never allow the gains of the gender revolution to be reversed, whether in health, education, employment, law reform or politics”.

Julia Gillard has made sure that our abortion rights will not be reversed. She has paid a very high political price for doing so. I hope that we will make sure she knows how much we appreciate what she has done for us. And how grateful we are.

But we cannot escape the bigger question: why are we like this?

Why is our politics so unable to accept the fact of a female prime minister, and one who stands up for her sex? why is standing up for women’s rights either ignored or denounced as bad politics?

This is the hard lesson for Gillard, for EMILY’s List and for all of us who want women to be an integral part of running our country.