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Navigating Identities in Cameroon

Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through 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, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Although Cameroonians are generally accepting of people with disabilities, some people hold prejudicial attitudes towards individuals with visible disabilities and may discriminate against them.

Accommodations for people with disabilities that may be more common in the United States are likely absent in Cameroon. Thus, everyday life may be more difficult for people who depend on such accommodations. Even in large cities, there is very little adaptive infrastructure, such as ramps, railings and elevators. Dirt roads are common and can become muddy during the rainy season. Pavement and sidewalks (where they exist) are often cracked and uneven.

Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

Although there are women who hold high-level positions in government and business, Cameroon remains a patriarchal culture.

Particularly in rural areas, different roles are expected from men and women. Men are usually the ‘’money providers” and women take care of the family by cooking, cleaning, and raising children.

Some men practice polygamy, with large families composed of multiple wives, many children, and extended family members.

In rural areas, Volunteers may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. The behavior of Volunteers identifying and presenting as women is more often scrutinized or criticized by host communities than that of their peers identifying or presenting as men.

Sometimes the work responsibilities of Volunteers presenting or identifying as women in Cameroon are different from the traditional roles of Cameroonian women, and these Volunteers may face initial difficulties finding acceptance and credibility at work. Adopting culturally appropriate behavior and dress can help Volunteers gain respect.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as women may get questions about their marital status and whether they have children because women of a certain age are expected to be married in Cameroon.

Cameroonian women have spheres of influence and are often the backbone of community development efforts. While it may be challenging at times, Volunteers identifying or presenting as women may attain success by aligning with women’s groups in villages and working within the gender-defined system to influence change.

Gender roles and related issues will be discussed during training, and strategies on how to maintain a sense of self while being culturally appropriate will be explored. Peace Corps Cameroon also conducts “Men as Partners” training which explores positive masculinity and the ways in which traditional cultural norms impact both men and women.

LGBTQI+ considerations

LGBTQI+ Volunteers have served successfully in Cameroon and Peace Corps Cameroon actively supports staff and Volunteers of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

However, in general, Cameroonian society views same-sex relationships as unnatural, immoral, and imported from other countries with different belief systems.

Safe and successful service requires a clear understanding of the dynamic LGBTQI+ cultural, political, and social context of the country. The U.S. State Department provides the following guidance to LGBTQI+ travelers to Cameroon: "Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($35-$353). LGBTQI+ individuals face social stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination. Police and civilians may extort money from presumed LGBTQI+ individuals with the threat of exposure or arrest. Suspected members of the LGBTQI+ community have received anonymous threats by phone, text, and email.”

For safety and security reasons, LGBTQI+ Volunteers are recommended not to disclose their identity to community members. All Volunteers are asked to refrain from discussing the topic of LGBTQI+ rights with community members, given the risks of being suspected of being part of, or supporting, the LGBTQI+ community.

Peace Corps Cameroon recognizes the challenges that having to withhold aspects of one’s identity may cause for Volunteers and staff are committed to providing support to and creating safe spaces for LGBTQI+ Volunteers to share their authentic selves.

Peace Corps Cameroon’s Peer Support Network focuses on helping Volunteers navigate challenges related to identity and promotes allyship to all Volunteers.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Due to limited exposure, some Cameroonians 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 appearance may vary greatly.

Black/African American Volunteers may blend in more easily and may be presumed to be Cameroonian. This may mean less unwanted attention, but sometimes it means they are expected to master local languages and adapt more quickly than other Volunteers. Community members may also not believe that they are from the United States.

It also may be more difficult for Cameroonians to identify Asian Americans, Arab Americans, or Hispanic/Latinx Americans as Americans. There may be stereotypes that Cameroonians associate with these groups which translate into microaggressions.

White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this privilege and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important. For instance, they may automatically be assumed to be Americans, while many of their fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out more and receive unwanted attention more often because of this aspect of their identity.

During pre-service training, Volunteers are given the opportunity to reflect on the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture, how race/ethnicity is perceived in Cameroon, and how to navigate these issues within their communities. All Volunteers can contribute to sharing the rich diversity of the U.S. with Cameroonians.

Age considerations

Volunteers over 50 years of age may find their age to be an asset and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers.

Elders in Cameroonian communities are considered leaders and are often given great respect. This can be challenging for older Volunteers, as they may feel like novices in their new environments.

Pre-service training can be particularly stressful for 50+ Trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits 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, but many do form lasting friendships with fellow Volunteers.

Sometimes, Cameroonians will assume that an older Volunteer is an immediate expert in their field, which can have both positive and negative impacts.

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.

Religious considerations

Religion plays a central role in the lives of most Cameroonians, and understanding and appreciating local religious practices may allow for better integration into the host community.

Cameroonians are familiar with most Christian and Muslim traditions but have little familiarity with Judaism, Buddhism, and other world religions.

Cameroon, however, is an ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse country and, as such, is tolerant of different religions.

Cameroonians may not always agree with a Volunteer’s beliefs, but it is unlikely that they will act negatively towards them because of these.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to conform better with traditional relationship roles in Cameroon.

Community members may not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional binary gender roles (for instance, sharing household roles and responsibilities).

It may be helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to different genders in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship can be adjusted can help reduce stress for you both.

Men in Cameroon 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 for a heterosexual couple who may be used to being viewed as equals, and should be something they discuss in advance.

Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children, etc. Couples should prepare to respond to this question.

The Peace Corps works to foster safe and productive assignments for same-sex couples, and same-sex couples are not placed in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized. At this time, Peace Corps Cameroon is only able to accept heterosexual couples. During the application process recruiters and placement officers work closely with same-sex couple applicants to understand current placement opportunities. For more information please visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/faqs/lgbtq/.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

The Peer Support and Diversity and Inclusion Network (PSDIN) is a Volunteer-led committee whose purpose is to engage and support Volunteers and staff to better understand issues of diversity, especially challenges that Volunteers of various religions, races, sexual orientations, national origin, etc. may encounter in Cameroon, and how best to prepare and deal with these challenges. It also supports Volunteers to process and cope with the emotional challenges that they may face and provide them with non-judgmental, confidential support, resources, and information. The committee members are trained by professionals but do not substitute for the services provided by the Peace Corps Medical Officer.

During pre-service training and beyond, ICDEIA sessions promote self-reflection and sharing perspectives alongside learning about diversity in Cameroon and skills to successfully navigate across cultures.

Peace Corps Cameroon collaborates with the U.S. Embassy-based DEI council to identify potential support avenues and programs that can be helpful for Volunteers.