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Navigating Identities in Kyrgyz Republic

Peace Corps’ 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, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

As a Volunteer with disabilities in the Kyrgyz Republic, you may face a special set of challenges. In the Kyrgyz Republic, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them.

Compared to the United States, there is very little infrastructure, such as ramps, railings, and elevators, to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities.

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

Gender role considerations

During pre-service training, you will use a gender lens to better understand gender roles in the Kyrgyz Republic and how these roles can benefit or limit actions and behaviors for individuals of different genders—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.

Binary gender roles in the Kyrgyz Republic are strongly defined. Even in urban areas where many women work outside the home, women still have traditional responsibilities including caring for the family, cleaning the house, and working long hours to prepare food.

Volunteers who identify and present as women in villages may also be expected to play traditional female roles within the household. Volunteers identifying and presenting as men are not often encouraged to assist with work traditionally associated with women.

Men are responsible for things outside the home, such as taking care of farm animals, cleaning the yard, and growing crops.

Volunteers who identify and present as women may be frequently asked about their marital status and whether they have children, as women of a certain age are expected to be married.

LGBTQI+ considerations

In the Kyrgyz Republic, the LGBTQI+ community is stigmatized. In 2023, the Kyrgyz Republic’s government adopted legislation that imposes heavy fines and possible jail sentences on anyone seen as “promoting same-sex relations.” This ban would extend to groups that defend the rights of LGBTQI+ community members, and journalists seen as supportive of the community. The situation facing transgender individuals in the Kyrgyz Republic is particularly dire. There have also been reports of violence directed at the LGBTQI+ community by local law enforcement.

In the Kyrgyz Republic traditional values, sexual orientation, and nonconforming gender identities are not discussed openly.

Peace Corps advises LGBTQI+ Volunteers in the Kyrgyz Republic to be discreet about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity within their host communities. Volunteers may consider coming out within the Peace Corps community.

Responding to questions about boyfriends, girlfriends, marriage, and children may, at times, be stressful for LGBTQI+ Volunteers. Volunteers may find the Kyrgyz Republic is a less open and inclusive environment than they have previously experienced.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure, some Kyrgyz communities 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 and may include:

  • being mistaken for a host country national
  • being questioned about their U.S. citizenship
  • facing behavior and language skill expectations or ridicule
  • being able to get better prices for goods and services.

These experiences can be transformed into teachable moments for Volunteers and host country nationals. 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 the Kyrgyz Republic, and should be mindful of being an ally to their fellow Volunteers.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers may not be viewed as American in the Kyrgyz Republic. It is common for people of East Asian descent to be referred to as Chinese. Local people may not believe that you are American or may frequently ask where your family is from. Some Asian American Volunteers may be presumed to be Kyrgyz. They may receive less unwanted attention compared to other Volunteers. Microaggressions around martial arts abilities or language may be common.

Black/African American Volunteers get lots of unwanted attention as locals rarely, if ever, see African Americans. They may be openly stared at, stopped in the street, or have their photo taken without their consent. People in the Kyrgyz Republic will call African Americans the N-word, as they were taught to use this term for individuals of this race.

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers may be mistaken as having citizenship that is other than American.

White Volunteers may automatically be assumed to be Americans. They also may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention.

Age considerations

In the Kyrgyz Republic older people are often revered, and older Volunteers often find that they are treated with respect. Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset and will often have access to people and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers.

Pre-service training can be challenging for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may not align with the techniques used during training. A 50+ Volunteer initially may not feel part of the group.

Older Volunteers sometimes have more obligations in the United States and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone they trust in the States to help deal with financial or other matters.

Religious considerations

Although people in the Kyrgyz Republic are predominantly Muslim, the “Russification” of indigenous ethnic groups and cultures has been significant. While there has been a resurgence of Islam in Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia, religion does not seem to play a dominant role in the political or economic life of the Kyrgyz Republic, except in the southern region of the country.

Volunteers are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community mosque. Those not in the practice of attending religious services may be asked to explain their reluctance, but it is possible to politely decline if you don’t wish to attend.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to conform with traditional relationship roles in-country. Host country nationals may find American relationship dynamics and gender roles to be a significant cultural difference that may be challenging for them to bridge.

It may be helpful to consider how pressure to conform can challenge men and women in different ways and discuss whether aspects of your relationship might be adjusted to help reduce stress for you both.

It is culturally inappropriate for unmarried people to live together in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Couples without children may be questioned repeatedly about why they do not have children.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Trainees and Volunteers are supported by Peace Corps staff and currently serving Volunteers, who will provide training and strategies for navigating ICDEIA challenges.

Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic has Volunteer-led committees that support Volunteers throughout their service. These include a Committee for Service Improvement (CSI), an Identity Support Group (ISG) and a Peer Support Network (PSN).

The Committee for Service Improvement (CSI) represents the diversity of staff and Volunteers, including race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, and ability. The purpose of the Committee is to be a dialogue between staff and Volunteers that focuses on shared goals rooted in the Peace Corps mission in country. It serves as a mechanism for mutual feedback and constructive engagement between Volunteers and staff to strengthen Post programming, training, and operations in support of host communities.

The Identity Support Group (ISG) promotes the long-term diversity, equity, and inclusion goals of Peace Corps. The ISG can help Volunteers and staff explore learning opportunities, challenges, and coping strategies. Members of the group co-facilitate ICDEIA sessions, participate in diversity panel discussions, and advise on better ways to promote diversity and inclusion.

The Peer Support Network (PSN) is a formalized peer support model comprised of Volunteers trained to provide one-on-one support and outreach to Volunteers and link them to available resources. The overarching goal of PSN is to promote Volunteer well-being and resilience.