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Navigating Identities in Botswana

Peace Corps’ Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (ICDEIA) approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through 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.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

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.

Gender role considerations

It 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.

Volunteering with the Peace Corps in Botswana offers a unique opportunity to contribute to community development while navigating cultural nuances, particularly regarding gender roles. Despite the country's progressive constitution and efforts towards gender equity, traditional norms and societal expectations may still pose challenges for female volunteers. In a landscape where women hold prominent positions in government and the private sector, rural communities may still uphold traditional gender roles, where men often have greater authority over income, spending, and reproductive health decisions. This dynamic can be unfamiliar for female Volunteers, especially those from urban backgrounds, who may face unwanted attention and scrutiny.

Cross-cultural and safety training sessions will equip Volunteers with strategies to navigate these challenges, emphasizing discretion in public spaces and providing tools to respond to unwanted attention. Despite the evolving landscape, younger female Volunteers may find it takes additional time to establish credibility within their communities compared to male or older counterparts.

LGBTQI+ considerations

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 LGBTQTI+ 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. LGBTQTI+ support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQTI+ community.

For LGBTQTI+ Volunteers serving with the Peace Corps in Botswana, navigating cultural attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity can present complex challenges. While the Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers of all genders and sexual orientations, it's important to recognize that some host countries may have more restrictive cultures in these regards.

In Botswana, same-sex relationships are often viewed as immoral, and certain sexual acts are criminalized. While discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by law, cultural acceptance may vary. LGBTQTI+ Volunteers may choose to be discreet about their sexual orientation or gender identity within their host community to avoid potential stigma or discrimination. While serving in Botswana, LGBTQTI+ Volunteers may face the reality of serving without openly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity, which can impact the depth of relationships formed within their community. It's essential for Volunteers to prioritize their safety and well-being while also finding ways to connect with others who share similar experiences within the Peace Corps community. The Peace Corps staff is committed to maintaining a supportive atmosphere for all Volunteers and will address LGBTQTI+ Volunteers’ concerns in a sensitive and confidential manner.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

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.

Volunteering in Botswana, Batswana may assume all U.S. citizens are white; Volunteers of color may encounter a range of responses based on their skin color, from being mistaken for locals to facing questions about their citizenship or encountering stereotypes.

These experiences, while sometimes challenging, can serve as valuable teachable moments for both Volunteers and host country nationals. By fostering open dialogue and cultural exchange, volunteers can help broaden perspectives and promote understanding of diversity. It’s essential for all Volunteers, regardless of race or ethnicity, to be aware of the complexities of race and ethnicity both in their home country and their country of service. By actively being allies to each other and fostering inclusivity, Volunteers can create a supportive environment where everyone can thrive and contribute to meaningful change.

Age considerations

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.

Volunteers 50+ often find their age to be an asset, providing them access to perspectives and connections that younger Volunteers may not have. Despite the challenges, older Volunteers play a vital role in the Peace Corps, bringing wisdom, resilience, and a wealth of experience to their service, enriching both their own lives and the communities they serve. Through flexibility, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace new experiences, older Volunteers can make a meaningful impact while forging lasting connections across generations.

Religious considerations

Navigating religious differences can be a significant aspect of a Volunteer’s life in Botswana where religion plays a prominent role in daily life. With the majority of Batswana having religious affiliations, predominately Christian, and regular church attendance being common, Volunteers may find themselves participating in religious activities as part of community integration. Volunteers can expect to start and end meetings with a Christian prayer.

Christian and non-Christian Volunteers alike may encounter expectations to attend church or questions about their religious beliefs. Cultural and linguistic barriers may further complicate the ability to fully convey one's own religious beliefs. Despite these challenges, Volunteers can engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue and foster understanding within their communities. By respecting local customs and beliefs while also asserting their own religious autonomy, Volunteers can contribute to building bridges across religious divides and promoting mutual respect and acceptance.

Considerations 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.

In Botswana, public displays of affection between married couples are uncommon, with kissing and affectionate touching typically reserved for the privacy of the home. Couples should be mindful of cultural norms regarding public displays of affection and respect local customs accordingly. Despite these differences, couples can find comfort in seeing examples of platonic affection, such as holding hands, among Batswana friends in public settings.

What types of ICDEIA support is available in country?

Peace Corps Botswana staff are here to help.