Julia Gillard.

Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Nic Walker

Julia Gillard has told a global audience that the sexism she endured as prime minister, while taking a toll on her, will make it easier for the next woman who gets the job.

But she also said that sexist attitudes to women leaders were not just ''something Australian'' but that ''many of the things that happened to me as prime minister happened to other women leaders''.

Speaking to the BBC in Washington DC ahead of taking her role at the Global Partnership for Education, Ms Gillard cites meetings with other female heads of government where they commented on a ''never-ending focus'' on appearances with people more interested in handbags than what was being said.

Soon after losing the election last year Ms Gillard told a Sydney Opera House audience of the "murderous rage'' she felt about sexism she had to endure as prime minister.

''There were some things about gender our nation needed to work through, that I personally had to work through,'' Ms Gillard told the BBC.

''But I think it's all part of a journey, where we will over time be treating women and men far more equally in politics.''

She told the BBC that many of the things that happened to her had also happened to other women leaders.

"You'll gather [with other women leaders] and chat about common experiences, where there's never-ending focus on appearance ... people are too interested in the handbag rather than what you're saying,'' she says.

But the BBC says it went well beyond the handbag.

The interviewer, Tim Franks, interrupts Ms Gillard to point out comments aimed at her being ''deliberately barren'' or a description by the boss of one of Australia's biggest agricultural companies calling her a ''non-productive old cow''.

''You had to sit there while a radio interviewer was asking if your partner was gay,'' Franks says.

He asks: ''Was she then, is she now, too phlegmatic? Again, 'the murderous rage' of which she spoke in September (at the Sydney Opera House) appears to have been extinguished.''

''I'm a pretty even-tempered sort of person," Ms Gillard says.

"There are always difficult judgment calls about how much oxygen you give to people who are being truly absurd."

Ms Gillard is about to take on a new role as chair of the Board of Directors at the Global Partnership for Education.