Harris County, TX — During their July 18 meeting, Harris County commissioners discussed a report from the Harris County Women’s Commission outlining its future goals and issued new directives for the nine-member group.
The Court identified three key initiatives for the Women’s Commission to focus on that will improve health, economic opportunity, and safety for Harris County women.
“We must attain true equality for all women in Harris County,” said Commissioner Lesley Briones. “I am energized by the diverse perspectives and expertise of the Commission’s members and am confident they will bring recommendations to address critical issues, including lowering the maternal mortality rate, eliminating pay disparities, and preventing domestic violence.”
Despite being home to the largest medical complex in the world, the maternal mortality rate in Harris County is higher than the rate in Texas and the United States. The mortality rate for Black mothers is three times higher than the rate for any other group in Harris County.
According to a 2021 study from the University of Houston, women in Harris County earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. The wage gap was even greater for women of color. Relative to non-Hispanic white men—Asian, Black, and Hispanic women made 62.5 cents, 45 cents, and 37.5 cents on the dollar, respectively.
In its presentation, the Commission said its initial plans include exploring activities related to Black Women's and Hispanic Women's Equal Pay Days.
“We must do better for the women in our County. As a proud Latina and mother of three young daughters—making sure we are doing everything possible to increase opportunities and decrease risks and injustices for women is a top priority of mine,” said Commissioner Briones, who is the first woman to serve as commissioner for Precinct 4 and is the first mother elected in her own right to serve on Commissioners Court in the County’s over 145-year history.
Commissioner Rodney Ellis championed the creation of the Harris County Women’s Commission in March 2022, as part of his decades-long work to improve equity for all.
"I take great pride in having spearheaded the creation of the Harris County Women's Commission, recognizing the urgency of addressing gender and racial disparities in economic opportunity, healthcare outcomes, and beyond. This esteemed group comprises individuals with vast knowledge, rich experience, and diverse backgrounds. I firmly believe that their collective expertise will pave the way for effective solutions to tackle these pressing challenges head-on,“ said Commissioner Ellis.
The Commission is charged with conducting research, producing reports, engaging with the community, and making actionable policy recommendations to Commissioners Court.
The Women’s Commission is led by chair Ellen Cohen. Cohen, a lifelong advocate for gender equality, served on Houston City Council from 2012-2019 and was Mayor Pro Tem for three years. She was elected to two terms as a state representative in the Texas Legislature. She spent nearly two decades as CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center.
Cohen said she and the Commission were eager to tackle the three priority areas outlined by Commissioner Briones
“Thank you to Commissioners Court for empowering us to take on these important issues for women in Harris County,” said Cohen. “I am proud of the work we are doing to effect change in our communities, especially for historically underserved women that bear these burdens more heavily than others.”
Precinct 4’s appointee to the Commission, Jacquie Baly, serves as Vice Chair. Baly is President of BalyProjects. She has been a leader in the Houston region’s business and policy communities for more than two decades. Baly began her career as a city and regional planner, then served as Vice President of the Greater Houston Partnership. She is a former Mayor Pro Tem and Councilmember At Large for the City of Sugar Land.
Baly said the Commission’s members will form working groups to focus on the three key areas of concern. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Knowing the dedication and commitment of each member of this commission, I'm confident we’ll be able to zero in on each of these critical issues and carve out a path forward to advise the Court,” said Baly.
The Commission plans to host town halls to get feedback from community members across Harris County. They will release an annual report at the end of this year detailing progress and will report back to the Court periodically with recommendations.
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About Harris County Precinct 4: Precinct 4 is one of four precincts located in Harris County, Texas and boasts a population of more than 1.2 million people. Precinct 4 maintains 1,423 miles of roads and nearly 4 miles of bridges, eight community centers with more than 700,000 visitors annually, and 54 parks, with 13,455 acres of greenspace.