Houston City Council voted to create its first ever permanent City of Houston Women’s Commission, appointing 25 diverse local female leaders to serve on the inaugural volunteer board.
The commission will advance equality and equity for women in the City of Houston by identifying and addressing disparities in healthcare, employment, safety and security across communities and industries, both in Houston’s public and private sector. The commission will develop and propose recommendations, identify gaps in information that need further study, and advise City leaders on ways to improve the quality of life for women throughout Houston.
The inaugural year’s charge is to address the disparities that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated for women in the region including job loss, health care and leave coverage, child-care needs, and wage disparities.
This effort was led by Council Member Abbie Kamin, who worked with Mayor Turner to bring the proposal to the full council.
“I congratulate Council Member Kamin for proposing the Houston Women’s Commission. As an attorney, wife, and mother, she brings a unique perspective to public service,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Women play a vital role in my administration and are leaders who are making significant contributions in all aspects of our diverse community. I look forward to seeing the Commission’s recommendations and working to enhance the quality of life for all women.”
“After over a year of planning, to see this effort come to fruition is very special. This is the first time we will have a board specifically looking at women’s equity in our city; something we must have if we want to address the substantial disparities women continue to face day-to-day,” said Council Member Abbie Kamin. Navigating her own pregnancy and childbirth while holding office, the Council Member continually asked other women about their experiences and the challenges they faced. With a global pandemic in the background, she was prompted to focus not only on barriers to access in healthcare, but issues like domestic violence, job security, and more. “It is important to the success of government and industry alike that women are represented at every level of leadership and decision-making. With the help of our diverse business and non-profit sectors, we can empower women in our community and ensure equal playing fields of opportunity.”
Women face disproportionate inequities in many areas including healthcare, employment, safety, both nationally and at the local level. In Harris County, full-time working women only earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to a study by the University of Houston Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality. Women are also more likely to experience poverty than men, a gender gap that is more pronounced in Harris County than at the national level. These disparities are even larger for Hispanic and Black women.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these existing inequities in the United States. In 2020, women experienced 1 million more job losses than men, and over two million women have left the work force during COVID. The virus also disproportionately impacts women’s health –pregnant women are at a much higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, preterm birth, and other adverse outcomes. “Many women have unfairly fallen even farther behind,” said Council Member Kamin, who received the Moderna vaccine while eight months pregnant ;and encouraged others to do so. “It is critical to bring industry to the table to come up with creative solutions. The Women’s Commission will help ensure this stays at the forefront, and I am grateful to Mayor Turner for championing this.”
“Addressing major gender inequity in Houston is as daunting as it is urgent, particularly in light of the injustices made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Matusoff Merfish, Chair of the Houston Women’s Commission. “With the invaluable support of Mayor Turner and Council Member Kamin, our commission stands ready to work at the nexus of research, public policy, and lived experience to make a positive difference in the lives of women and their families in Houston.”
The 25 women serving on Houston Women’s Commission represent a diverse cross-section of Houston:
Beth Matusoff Merfish, Carmen Peña Abrego, Elsa Caballero, Carvana Cloud, Elizabeth Gregory, Chau Nguyen, Angie Wiens-Talbert, Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock, Codi Wiener, Eureka Gilkey, Alison Young, Haley Crain Carter, Juliana Garaizar, Barbara Burger, Lori Choi, Tammi C. Wallace, Phyllis Frye, Rogene Calvert, Glenda Joe, Kristy Bridges, Christine S. Willie, Janalia Moreno, Nancy Macgregor, Tanuke Smith, Sima Ladjevardian