The nation’s largest union, the Service Employees International Union, elected its first homecare worker to its International Board recently in a move that union members say is a sign of women’s increasing voice in the labor movement.

Helen Miller, an African American homecare worker for almost 25 years, was elected to the board at the union’s national convention in San Francisco two weeks ago. She became a member of the union’s Illinois Local 880 chapter about 19 years ago and was elected its president in July 1999.

Miller will join 60 other union members on the international board, where she will help prioritize resources, decide which union campaigns get the most attention and take part in the development of a new long-term care division that includes homecare and nursing home workers, said Marnie Goodfriend, a union spokesperson.

Homecare is one of the fastest growing service sectors and Miller’s appointment is a step toward strengthening the presence of homecare workers in the union’s decision-making body, said Goodfriend. Union officials hope women in other local chapters will be motivated and encouraged to step up and take on more leadership roles within the organization, she added.

One quarter of American households provide home-based care to a friend or relative over the age of 50, according to a 2003 study called The Future of Caretaking published in the New Politics journal. Nearly 75 percent of the caretakers in those situations are women. In long-term care facilities for the elderly, almost all of the caretakers–93 percent–are women, the study said.

For more information:

New Politics–The Future of Caretaking:

Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS:
2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic:


A study released this week by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS highlighted the increasing “feminization of the AIDS epidemic,” especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where 57 percent of adults infected with HIV are women and 75 percent of young people infected are female.

The Geneva-based U.N. program released the study in anticipation of the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, next week. Researchers found that heterosexual women are the fastest growing group infected with HIV worldwide. In 1997, women represented 41 percent of the people living with HIV. By 2002, the percentage had risen to almost 50 percent.

Though women figure significantly among high-risk groups such as injection drug users, mobile populations and prisoners, heterosexual sex is the dominant mode of HIV transition, the study said.

The study attributed the disproportionately high rate of female infection in sub-Saharan Africa in part to widespread gender inequalities and a high incidence of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, advocates of women’s rights and reproductive freedoms were deeply disappointed Tuesday when the Senate confirmed James Leon Holmes to the federal bench in Arkansas.

Holmes, one of most conservative of President Bush’s nominees to the bench, has been an outspoken supporter of efforts to ban abortion in the United States, comparing pro-choice advocates to Nazis. In a 1982 editorial for the Arkansas Democrat, Holmes wrote: “The pro-abortionists counsel us to respond to (social problems) by abandoning what little morality our society still recognizes. This was attempted by one highly sophisticated, historically Christian nation in our history–Nazi Germany.”

In 1997 Holmes and his wife, Elizabeth, wrote an editorial for the Arkansas Catholic under the headline: “Gender Neutral Language: Destroying an Essential Element of our Faith.” In it they argued that the Bible requires women to be subservient to men.

After a fierce debate, the Senate voted 51 to 46 to put Holmes on the federal bench. Five Republicans, including three women, broke ranks and opposed the appointment, while six Democrats voted in his favor. His supporters, including the two Democratic senators from Arkansas, argued that his conservative beliefs will have no influence on his performance as a judge.

Holmes is a member of the Federalist Society, a group whose abortion experts have advocated for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. He also served as the president of Arkansas Right to Life from 1986-1987, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

— Robin Hindery.