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Navigating Identities in Eswatini

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.

Volunteers with disabilities may encounter physical barriers such as uneven terrain, lack of wheelchair ramps, limited transportation options in their host communities and limited number of people competent in sign language. These barriers may hinder their ability to fully participate in community activities and access essential services.

Some people still hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities, which can lead to stigma or discrimination based on misconceptions about disabilities. Peace Corps provides comprehensive training on inclusion, equipping Volunteers with the knowledge and skills to address accessibility barriers and promote inclusivity within their communities.

Staff also conducts accessibility assessments to identify and address barriers to participation for Volunteers with disabilities. This may include providing adaptive equipment, modifying living arrangements, or arranging transportation accommodations.

Throughout service, Volunteers with disabilities receive ongoing support from Peace Corps staff, including access to medical and mental health services, disability accommodations, and guidance on navigating cultural differences and addressing discrimination.

Some Volunteer assignments may require physical stamina or endurance. Activities such as manual labor, long hikes, or outdoor work may be more taxing for individuals with limitations that hinder these.

Gender role considerations

The Peace Corps provides gender training as part of pre-service orientation and throughout Volunteers' service. This training helps Volunteers understand the cultural context of gender roles and dynamics in their host communities and equip them with skills to promote gender equity and challenge gender-based discrimination.

Men and women are expected to fulfill distinct roles and responsibilities in Swati culture, and because of the patriarchal structure of Eswatini, women are traditionally regarded as members of a legal minority.

In rural areas especially, women Volunteers may find extremely conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. For example, a Swazi woman might be expected to bow to the ground before her husband or elders identifying as men, a strong and visual demonstration of the power disparity between the sexes.

The behavior of women Volunteers is scrutinized or criticized more often than that of men Volunteers. It may occasionally be necessary to explain or defend why you believe something or behave in a certain way.

Volunteers may often be asked about their marital status and receive marriage proposals, professions of love, and other unwanted attention from men.

LGBTQI+ considerations

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.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers should know that Eswatini is a very conservative society. Same-sex relationships exist in Eswatini but not with the same level of acceptance as in the United States.

LGBTQI+ individuals in Eswatini may face stigma and/or discrimination due to prevailing societal attitudes and legal restrictions on same-sex relationships. This can lead to feelings of isolation and concealment of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most Swati LGBTQI+ are likely to have migrated to the larger cities, while most Volunteers are posted in rural sites. Because of Swazi cultural norms, being open about your sexual orientation in your community may come with significant challenges which may affect your integration, safety and security.

Peace Corps staff members are trained to provide confidential support and assistance to LGBTQI+ Volunteers facing challenges or safety concerns. Volunteers can reach out to staff for guidance, referrals to resources, and assistance with navigating legal or social barriers related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Due to limited exposure, some locals will expect all U.S. citizens to be White, and are unaware of the racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a community member 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.

Black/African American Volunteers: Some African American Volunteers find they blend in and may be presumed to be Swazi, while others do not and may be presumed to be from another African country. This is more common for individuals with darker / deeper skin tones. Those who may be mistaken as Swazi may receive less unwanted attention as compared to other Volunteers, but unwanted attention as a whole generally affects all Volunteers and their service. Local people may not believe that they are American or may consistently ask where their family is from.

White Volunteers: 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. White Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention because of this aspect of their identity.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American. It is common for all people of Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “Jackie China.”

Latino/Hispanic Volunteers: Compared to Volunteers from other ethnic groups, Latino/Hispanic volunteers may experience fewer stereotypes or prejudices from Swazi community members. This is partly due to the limited exposure of Swazis to diverse cultures and races. However, Latino/Hispanic may still face unique misunderstandings related to their background.

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. 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. 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.

The Peace Corps provides comprehensive health and wellness support to all Volunteers, including access to medical care, counseling services, and assistance with managing age-related health concerns. Volunteers of different ages have opportunities to learn from one another and exchange knowledge and experiences.

Religious considerations

The vast majority of Swazis have some religious affiliation and attend religious gatherings regularly. Christianity is the most common religion in country, with others having a combination of both Christian and Traditional ancestral belief. There is also a growing population in the Muslim faith. Both Christian and non-Christian Volunteers may be expected to attend church with members of their community.

Volunteers may be asked if they are Christian, or why they do not belong to a certain Christian denomination, if they have been “saved,” and other questions they may consider to be intrusive or prejudicial.

Volunteers may participate in local religious ceremonies and observances as a way of showing respect for the cultural traditions and beliefs of their host communities. While Volunteers maintain their own religious identity, they may also be open to learning from and engaging with the religious practices of others in a spirit of mutual respect and curiosity.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Heterosexual couples may encounter cultural expectations regarding gender roles and marital status. Traditional gender norms may influence perceptions of couples and expectations for their behavior within the community.

Eswatini is a conservative society where same-sex relationships are illegal and not widely accepted in Eswatini. It's important for same-sex couples to be discreet and cautious about publicly displaying affection or disclosing their relationship as a way of managing unwanted attention and being ostracized by the host community.

Serving as a couple can provide mutual support and companionship during the challenges of Peace Corps service. Couples can rely on each other for emotional support, problem-solving, and shared experiences, enhancing their resilience and well-being.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps invests in continual learning for all staff on ICDEIA support. Currently, Peace Corps Eswatini has two points of contact who, as part of staff, support and coach Trainees and Volunteers to navigate challenging intercultural situations and situations and those that arise within the Volunteer cohort.

Pre-service training is a space that allows Trainees an opportunity to learn about and practice intercultural engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion competencies. Frameworks and concepts such as the Self-Other-Bridge model, microaggressions, social identities and power dynamics, stereotypes, cultural dimensions and unconscious bias are discussed, in addition to practicing approaching situations with humility, openness to learning, and critical attention to own perspectives and social identities.

In LearningSpace, staff also provides resources that Trainees and Volunteers can use to read, reflect, and navigate challenging situations.