Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect the diversity of the United States via its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including: Race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.
Serving across cultures with diverse social identities comes with both challenges and opportunities and Peace Corps staff, Volunteers, cultural mentors, and existing diversity support structures will support Volunteers to have a safe, productive, and meaningful service journey.
Accessibility and disability considerations
Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers with disabilities to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Volunteers with disabilities in Armenia may face a special set of challenges. In Armenia, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them.
There is very little attention to accessibility, and most buildings, streets, public transportation, and venues have no accommodations for people with disabilities.
However, Volunteers with disabilities have had successful services in Armenia and found that the country offers many rewarding experiences.
Disability support groups are available in-country for further information, advice, and support on how to navigate Armenian society and disability issues.
Staff are also committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.
Gender role considerations
Gender is considered a principal organizational function for societies due to the cultural meanings given to being male or female. Armenia has a traditional, patriarchal culture in which gender roles of males and females are well defined.
Among the challenges of living and working in Armenia is learning to cope effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held.
For example, female Volunteers may find that being a single woman living alone goes against the cultural norms of their community and receive unwanted attention. Male Volunteers may feel pressure to participate in specific activities to bond with other males.
Learning to cope with and appreciate the host country’s gender principles will be fundamental to a successful service.
In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives.
In Armenia, sexual and gender minorities certainly exist but same-sex relationships are considered immoral. It is suggested that Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members.
There are no laws protecting LGBTQ+ individuals and basic civil liberties around these issues are nonexistent. Most LGBTQ+ Armenians have migrated to larger cities where they feel safer among peers.
LGBTQ+ Volunteers may have to practice discretion while in a professional environment and with the host family. The Peace Corps office, however, is a safe space where Volunteers can be completely free to express their identities and find allies among the staff.
LGBTQ+ support groups are available in-country for further information, advice, and support on how to navigate Armenian society and LGBTQ+ issues.
Racial and ethnic diversity considerations
African or Black American, Latino American, Native American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers will face unique challenges during their service journey. Some host country communities may not be aware or exposed to the richness and diversity of ethnicity and race in the U.S., so a non-white Volunteer could come as a surprise.
On the positive side, Volunteers of color could be viewed with curiosity, with many people wanting to take photographs like a celebrity. On the negative side, Volunteers of color should be prepared for staring, pointing, unwanted touching or other micro-aggressions. While these moments can be exhausting, they can also be learning and teaching moments if managed well.
White Americans will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important as a Volunteer. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be U.S. American, while many of your fellow PCVs of color may experience the contrary.
Armenia is generally a homogenous society so there is a natural curiosity for anything that is different. Many Black American, Latino American, Native American and Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers have successfully served in Armenia and learned to navigate the challenges. Host families have “adopted” Volunteers of different races with absolutely no hesitation. It will be a unique experience for Volunteers of color, but one that can also be very rewarding.
Peace Corps staff are committed to supporting all Volunteers of color to be safe, healthy, and effective during their service. This includes promoting and ensuring a safe and supportive Volunteer community and addressing significant conflicts as they arise.
Age considerations for older Volunteers
Age is well-respected in Armenia, both at home and at work. Older Volunteers may find their age an asset and will often have access to individuals and insights that may not be available to younger Volunteers.
Armenia is home to the Armenian Apostolic Church which belongs to the Eastern Orthodox family of churches. About 97% of Armenians belong to this religion.
There are also a small number of Islamic and Yezidi religious minorities in the country.
Because of the religious nature of society, Volunteers will most likely be asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. It is acceptable to politely decline, although the reasons for not attending church might be a subject of discussion especially within the host family.
As with other social identities, Armenians will be curious about other cultures and religions, and how people of different religions live in the U.S.
Considerations for Volunteer couples
While the youth in Armenia is becoming more progressive, most of the country still believes that you must be married in order to live together.
If a couple is unmarried, they should have a good understanding of how they will respond when questioned about their relationship.
Men in Armenia are viewed as the dominant gender and as such the man will usually be the person that all questions are directed towards. This can be trying on a heterosexual couple who may be used to being viewed as equals and should be something they discuss.
Couples without children may also be questioned heavily about why they do not have children, etc. This is another question that is best to discuss prior and decide as a couple how you will respond to questions like this.
What types of ICDEIA support are available in-country?
Peace Corps Armenia will have a staff led ICDEIA/Equity/Bridge Council that will work to intentionally foster a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture.
This staff led council collaborates with and seeks input from Volunteers on various ICDEIA efforts from working to make training and programming more effective and appropriate to co-creating ideas to strengthen inclusion and belonging for Volunteers, staff, and host country partners.
Volunteers will also have the option of setting up staff-supported affinity groups including: Black/African American Volunteers, Latinx Volunteers, Volunteers of Faith, +50 Volunteers, LGBTQI+ Volunteers, Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers, Volunteer Allies, etc.
Staff regularly meet with host country human rights groups and advocate to better understand the ICDEIA climate in country and invite representatives from said groups to meet with trainees and Volunteers during certain training and programming events.