Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity also encompasses where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.
We also seek to create inclusion—a culture that connects each staff and Volunteers to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle.
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Once Volunteers arrive at their sites, diversity and inclusion principles remain the same but take on a different shape, in which your host community may share a common culture and you—the Volunteer—are the outsider. You may be in the minority, if not the sole American like you, at your site. You will begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support you may receive—and may need to make adjustments. During pre-service training, a session will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible both for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (yours and other Americans’) with your host country national counterparts, and also for learning from your host country’s diversity.
To ease the transition to life in your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual, and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these limitations. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how to adapt personal choices and behavior to be respectful of the host country culture, and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Gender RolesIt will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.
Female Volunteers may find that Azerbaijanis think it is strange for a single woman to live alone. They will receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men than they do in the United States. Female Volunteers may not be able to have male visitors in their homestay rooms or apartments in villages. Women will also need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion (e.g., not smoke or drink in public) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in the community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Because of limited exposure, some foreign nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a host country national to being questioned about their U.S. citizenship, to facing behavior and language skill expectations or ridicule, to being able to get better prices for goods and services. These instances can be turned into teachable moments for the Volunteer and the host country national. All Volunteers, including white Volunteers and those of color, should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within your country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.
Azerbaijan has an ethnically diverse population and a long history of interaction with peoples of Central Asia. Still, a person of color may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer in a particular program. You may work and live with individuals with no experience or understanding of your culture. You may not receive the necessary personal support from other Volunteers or you may not find minority role models among the local Peace Corps staff.
Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of
all genders and sexual orientations, and encourages Volunteers to serve as
allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the
Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual
orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more
permissive. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to
provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQ Volunteers have
chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative
reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and
Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or
gender identity within their host community. LGBTQA support groups may be
available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace
Corps LGBTQA community. More information about serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer is
available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni
website at lgbrpcv.org. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ LGBTQ employee resource
group, Spectrum, can be reached at [email protected].
In Azerbaijan, homosexuality is generally considered immoral for religious and cultural reasons. There are certainly homosexuals in Azerbaijan, but their level of acceptance is very low. While there is some evidence of gay culture in Baku, it is discreet and underground. However, in the regions where you will be placed, homosexuality is definitely not accepted. Common beliefs are that gays are criminals and that being gay is an illness. Even certain styles of hair and clothes, earrings on men, and certain mannerisms that are accepted in the United States may be viewed with suspicion or disdain in your community. Your basic civil liberties may be ignored, or you may be hassled in bars or on the street. You may not find the support you desire within the Peace Corps community in Azerbaijan. Homosexual or bisexual Volunteers may serve for two years without meeting another homosexual or bisexual Volunteer. Relationships with homosexual host country nationals can happen, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they are not likely to be easy. Lesbians, like all women, may have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. Wearing an ―engagement ring‖ may help. Gay men, like all men, may have to deal with machismo: talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes. In the past, Volunteers who have served in Azerbaijan have carefully chosen when and to whom to come out, to a very limited number of people (predominantly to fellow Volunteers and a few local staff members).
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities employee resource group can be reached at [email protected].
Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples
Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Host country nationals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be changed can help reduce stress for you both.
Possible Religious Issues for VolunteersAzerbaijanis frequently ask Volunteers about their religious affiliation, but this is more out of curiosity than out of any challenge. Ninety-three percent of Azerbaijanis are Muslim, and mosque attendance and other religious observances are generally greater in rural areas. If you wish to visit a mosque, ask your host family or counterpart first, and be guided by their response. Azerbaijan has a long tradition of tolerance toward, and coexistence with, other faiths, with the exception of Armenian Orthodoxy, an outgrowth of the ongoing tensions between Azerbaijan and its western neighbor. Proselytizing of any kind by Volunteers is prohibited.
Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers
Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. But, pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the techniques used. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may have challenges in maintaining lifelong friendships and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.