“Waheedah is a fierce advocate for women living with HIV,” says the Sero Project’s Reed Vreeland. “And for the experiences of women of color, sex workers, and women who are currently or have been incarcerated.” Indeed. Waheedah Shabazz-El describes herself as a 50-plus African-American Muslim woman and retired U.S. postal worker who was diagnosed with AIDS in 2003. “I am a native Philadelphia resident, a retired postal worker and a kick-ass AIDS activist,” she said in an interview with the HIV Philly blog. “That’s what my friends tell me.”
Shabazz-El is a founding and advisory member of Positive Women’s Network-USA and coordinator of PWN-Philly. By day she works as an HIV counselor and tester at Philadelphia Fight, but her résumé of extracurriculars is packed: She’s a steering committee member for the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance and chair of the community advisory board at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for AIDS Research. As a member of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Working Group, Shabazz-El has visited the White House, and on behalf of PWN she delivered the closing address at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna. She wants to make sure women are “counted in,” having their voices heard when it comes to planning and prevention efforts, policy decisions, and HIV leadership.
“In the U.S., women make up nearly a third of all new infections,” she told HIV Philly. “[We need to] prioritize women in a risk category of their own. Not women in jail or women who do drugs or even women with children. Count all women in. Whether they are of childbearing age or experiencing menopause. Women’s risks for acquiring HIV have not been clearly defined.”