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It's time for women to consider politics, says MP

EQUALITY: Jennifer Howard is highlighting issues of gender parity during Queensland Women’s Week.
EQUALITY: Jennifer Howard is highlighting issues of gender parity during Queensland Women’s Week. Rob Williams

FIRST-term Ipswich MP Jennifer Howard sits within a government that has made history, thanks to the number of women who lead it.

Women occupy the top roles with Annastacia Palaszczuk as Premier and Jackie Trad as Deputy Premier.

Shannon Fentiman also has a prominent role as the Minister for Women. At the time she was elected, Ms Fentiman's federal ministerial counterpart was Tony Abbott.

But even in a government and parliament that has made records for gender parity, women remain a minority. Ms Howard is one of 24 women among parliament's 89 sitting members.

As Ipswich celebrates Queensland Women's Week over the next seven days, Ms Howard is calling for young women to turn their hand to politics and help change that ratio in future governments.

She wants to see politicians and voters embrace a non-adversarial style of governance which is currently viewed as ineffective.

The Queensland Times has teamed with Ms Howard for Queensland Women's Week to profile prominent women in Ipswich who are standing against the lack of gender equality.

The role of gender in leadership was a big motivator for Ms Howard when she decided to stand for election herself last year after years as an MP staffer.

"I wanted to lay the groundwork in some ways," she said.

"I think there is a different way of governing. That adversarial way often detracts a lot of really good potential leaders from joining."

Ms Howard said there continued to be a disparity in the number of women in high leadership roles at all levels of government.

"Queensland state Labor caucus has probably the most women any state government or any government has ever had - 39.5% of the caucus are women," she said.

"However, in the power-broking bodies of the Labor Party there are very few women - desperately few women... and it's much worse in the LNP.

"So there's a lot of work to still be done."

As Assistant Minister for Local Government, Ms Howard has taken on the policy of addressing the lack of women in local governments across Queensland.

With three women on its 11-person team, Ipswich City Council sits at much the same rate of gender parity as other councils in the region. Three women each sit on the seven-person councils in the Scenic Rim and Lockyer Valley.

A total of 10 women take up seats in the 26-member Brisbane City Council. At least one Queensland council, the Fraser Coast, has no sitting female councillors at all.

"I think the way we see that change is by empowering women," Ms Howard said.

"When young women understand they can make a difference...they put their hand up.

"That's why we still need an International Women's Day."

She highlighted the work of the Ipswich Youth Advisory Council as an incredible example of young women taking up leadership roles.

"I think there is change. Change is happening," she said.

Ms Howard said levels of sexism from voters had reduced since the time of former Ipswich MP Rachel Nolan, who Ms Howard worked for as a staffer.

At age 26, Ms Nolan was the youngest female Queensland MP ever elected.

"I do think there has been a shift but I don't know what the factors are," Ms Howard said.

"If you need an example of how people's attitudes are towards women in politics, you need look no further than Julia Gillard.

"That was undoubtedly sexism she encountered, on a really incredibly magnified stage and scale."

Ms Howard said she would like more women to take on job roles traditionally dominated by men.

"We as a society just need to understand that women are equal participants - they are not something you see on a billboard or that should be objectified."

Pick up the QT each day this week to hear from prominent women in Ipswich as part of Queensland Women's Week.

Topics:  jennifer howard, queensland women's week



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