SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian women's group defended ousted premier Julia Gillard on Friday, saying the nation's first female leader had battled treachery in her own party and "gross disrespect" while in office.
In large advertisements in major newspapers, the Victorian Women's Trust said the unwed, atheist Gillard had faced enmity not only from her political opposition, but members of her own Labor Party and an often hostile media.
"From the outset, and despite its democratic legitimacy, the Gillard-led minority government sparked an unheralded series of hostile reactions from different quarters across the country," it said.
"Her many achievements went largely unproclaimed, while her mistakes were amplified - and continually referenced."
The letter said the toxic political discourse around Ms Gillard gave public licence to "an unprecedented campaign of sexist and chauvinist abuse, denigration, double standards, gross disrespect for the office of Prime Minister and gross disrespect for her as a person".
Ms Gillard became a torchbearer for women around the world with her fiery speech about misogyny on the floor of parliament last October, even as she was subjected to unrelenting comments on her gender.
Placards such as "Ditch the Witch" were held up at rallies. One radio personality said she should be thrown in the ocean in a chaff bag, and another asked her repeatedly whether her partner Tim Mathieson was gay.
In the final weeks of her leadership, it emerged that someone had put together a menu for a Liberal fundraiser with a "Julia Gillard" quail dish which had "Small Breasts and Huge Thighs and A Big Red Box".
Ms Gillard, who last week was replaced as Labor leader and prime minister by Kevin Rudd, the man she deposed in 2010, has said her gender "does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing".
The Women's Trust said the past three years should prompt reflection on "the seams of aggressive contempt and sexist abuse that lay beneath everyday life and which surfaced with Julia Gillard's elevation as Prime Minister".
"The past three years have led to a great loss of civility and common decency, a poisonous political discourse and a downturn in respect for our leaders," they said in the ad.
"We now have a climate in which people willingly and disrespectfully attack one another in anonymous and often vitriolic commentary that is no substitute for mature democratic debate."
Mary Crooks, executive director of the Trust, said she just wanted Ms Gillard's achievements recognised on the public record and the ads were paid for by "generous and thoughtful women".