Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard has been blasted for “floundering hopelessly” to answer the simple question of “what is a woman” at a speaking event in Adelaide.

Footage has emerged of Ms Gillard, the first woman to hold Australia’s highest office, rambling around the question while at an speaking event on ‘women’s advancement’ at Government House in the South Australian’s capital on August 25.

The former Labor leader spoke for almost four minutes without answering questions posed by women’s right’s activist and audience member Biddy O’Loughlin.

“What is a woman?” Ms O’Loughlin asked.

“Do you agree with Queensland’s Attorney-General (and) Minister Women Shannon Fentiman that trans women are women and with UK’s leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer that some women have a penis?”

Defining a woman has become somewhat of a difficult ask for public political figures in recent years as the polarising trans rights debate grows increasingly heated.

Ms Gillard addressed this in her response, saying she was “very happy” to answer the question but was worried for the “gotcha parlour game” it had become the centre of.

“I think we’ve just got to move away from all of that and just come at this once again from first principles and say to ourselves: we as a community are full of people with diverse stories and diverse life experiences,” she said.

“(Among that diversity) there are a number of people who genuinely believe that they are trapped in the wrong body and they want to be recognised as the gender their mind and soul have always told them that they are.”

Ms Gillard said that applies to both transgender men and transgender women, and called for “love, inclusion and respect … for each of those individuals”.

“And then there are a set of issues that need to be thought through about prison arrangements, about fairness in elite sport … that we’re up to thinking about and working through if we try and we try and do it inclusively,” she continued.

“Most people in their lives won’t end up playing elite sport, most people won’t end up in prison, most people in their lives will encounter at some point someone who is a transsexual person.

“And I think what really counts is the openness and spirit of inclusion about the way that you encounter them.“

Ms Gillard closed her answer saying part of that attitude of inclusivity is “referring to them the way they want to be referred to” – whether that is related to their pronouns or other identifying features, like ethnicity.

“I think if we can all do that we can kind of take the temperature out of this,” she concluded.

“And I think the temperature is being created for political reasons often, not because it’s inherent in the discussion.”

Ms Gillard’s response has enraged conservative critics, some saying they were surprised the woman touted as a feminist trailblazer would be “incapable” of answering the question.

“We’ve seen that question stump many gutless bureaucrats and politicians, but I never thought that Australia’s first female prime minister … would be incapable of answering ‘what is a woman?’ but here we are,” said Sky News host Rita Panahi.

“Even Albo managed to answer that question without beclowning himself.”

Sitting Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was asked the same question by controversial broadcaster Piers Morgan in early May, to which Mr Albanese replied: “an adult female”.

Ms Panahi accused Ms Gillard of “floundering hopelessly” over the question and slammed her answer as “imbecilic” on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Independent Victorian MP Moira Deeming – who was ousted from the Liberal Party after appearing at an anti-transgender rally earlier this year – said she was “disappointed” in the former prime minister.

“Tragically, it was our first female Prime Minister that presided over the erasure of sex based rights in Australia,” Ms Deeming posted to social media.

“Now she frames reasonable questions and complaints about the consequences, as petty bigotry.”

2GB host Ben Fordham joined the criticism on Monday morning, laughing at Ms Gillard’s roundabout answer which “at the end of it, we still don’t know what a woman is”.

Women’s rights campaigner Angie Jones said she was particularly “hurt” by Ms Gillard’s answer, as a fan of the former prime minister.

“Look at the former Prime Minister … a former lawyer & excellent public speaker, get flustered when asked a variation of the ‘what is a woman’ question,” Ms Jones posted to social media.

“It’s so obvious that she does not believe a word of what is coming out of her own mouth.”

Conservative media figure Sall Grover replied to the post, accusing Ms Gillard of throwing Australian women under the bus.

“She has spent almost a decade dining out on being Australia’s first female prime minister & her ‘misogyny speech’, when in reality she threw Australian women under the bus.”

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