Gretah is a 21 year-old Rwandan international student who moved to Winnipeg two years before joining the project as a participant. While initially finding it hard to meet new people on a busy campus, she was able to connect with other students through clubs and groups offered at the university. From Gretah’s perspective, coming as an international student to Canada by herself resulted in a lot of person growth, as she felt her worldview had shifted significantly. She spoke passionately about discovering her love for feminism and gender issues after taking courses during her first couple of years in university.
This passion translated into her personal definition of sexual health. Gretah expressed “I think now I would say sexual health has more to do with sexual subjectivity.” By sexual subjectivity she explained this meant sexual health was about a woman and her relationship with her body, specifically not being ashamed of her body, being able to say no and ask for what she wants in a relationship. In discussing sexual subjectivity, she tied her ability (and right) to feel “sexy” and have desires to the idea of sexual health. Gretah understood this to be a very different attitude than the one she had while living at home with her parents in Rwanda. She attributed this to way sex was talked about in relationship to the risk of HIV, particularly on the radio and when she went to visit her grandparents in their village.
However, Gretah’s story should not be used to reinforce the idea that she was suddenly “empowered” upon moving to Canada. Gretah explained that there was a lot of fear around having sex, specifically attached to the risk of HIV/AIDS, in both Rwanda and Canada at the public health and government level. In her mind, it was her university journey where she read texts and theories that discussed feminism and gender studies, upon which she formulated her own definition of sexual health in relation to her sexuality. Reflecting on her past experiences, she used to believe that her friends in Rwanda thought the same way about sex and sexuality but now she is not so sure. Now Gretah believes “sexual health has everything to do with people’s backgrounds,” showing us that each participant’s understanding of sexual health is shaped by multiple experiences in multiple contexts.