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?
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.
Gender roles in Ecuador are markedly different from those in the United States. Most Ecuadorian women, especially those in rural areas, have traditional roles: They run the household, prepare meals, clean, and rear children. Many women also work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals. Men also have specific roles, and “manliness” is considered very important. Although many Volunteers are bothered by these gender roles, it is important to understand them to be effective in your work. It is not uncommon for women to be subjected to stares, comments, and offers of dates on the street or in other situations. Female Volunteers are obvious targets because they often look quite different from Ecuadorian women. Female Volunteers must learn how to handle these situations and sometimes have to accept constraints on their behavior that male Volunteers do not face. Male Volunteers also encounter harassment, though less frequently. If you do not drink, smoke, or like to pursue women openly, you may be teased about not being manly enough and pressured to participate in these activities. Male Volunteers who cook, wash clothes and dishes, and clean the house may seem very strange to their neighbors. All Volunteers have to adjust to the gender norms and different ways of doing things in Ecuador. Pre-service training will orient you to these norms and customs.
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.
Ecuador has a variety of ethnic groups, including an Afro-Ecuadorian population concentrated in a couple of areas of the country. Thus, African-American Volunteers are likely to stand out more for their manner of dress and lifestyle than for their ethnic background, especially if they live in these particular areas. And since Afro-Ecuadorians are a visible minority subject to negative attitudes or discrimination, African-American Volunteers may experience similar treatment. Volunteers of color may encounter verbal harassment on the street—especially when away from their sites in larger towns or cities. Asian Americans may be called chino or china even if they are not of Chinese descent. However, comments or jokes regarding race or ethnicity are more likely to be used in a descriptive sense than in a derogatory sense. Most of them arise from misinformation or unfamiliarity with other races and cultures rather than mean-spiritedness. You will find it helpful to maintain a positive attitude about yourself and to approach any negative comments with patience and confidence. Ecuadorians (particularly in rural areas) tend to think of all Americans as Anglo. For Anglo Americans who have had little experience with being the only one of their kind in a community, being the center of attention because of one’s nationality, regardless of race or ethnicity, may sometimes feel uncomfortable.
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.
While some Ecuadorians are open about their sexual orientation and civil unions are legal for same-sex couples, gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteers may need to be circumspect with their Ecuadorian colleagues about their sexual orientation. The experience of each Volunteer will differ, but many LGBTQ individuals never come out to the Ecuadorians in their site. Although there are not many support mechanisms in the broader society, Peace Corps/Ecuador does have an LGBTQ working group, SpeQtrum, to help individuals find the support they need during their two years of service. SpeQtrum meets three to four times a year for support group meetings and provides safe space trainings for Volunteers and staff in order to provide a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ Volunteers.
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.
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 Volunteers
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Ecuador. Other religious groups are increasingly visible, however, and tolerance of other religions is fairly high. In some smaller communities, divisions exist across religious lines, and Volunteers need to understand these and be careful about being seen as aligned exclusively with one side or the other.
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.
In general, older members of the community are well respected in Ecuador. Specific challenges for older Volunteers most often are related to language abilities and adaptation to the relatively basic living conditions of Ecuador.