Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
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.
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. Most likely, you will be the only American in your village. 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.
Distinct roles and responsibilities are expected to be fulfilled by men and women in Malawian culture and gender stereotypes will likely be considered traditional by most Americans. Female Volunteers may often meet extremely conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. Likewise, the behavior of female Volunteers is more often scrutinized and criticized than that of their male peers. Although the Peace Corps emphasizes understanding and sensitivity of other cultures, it will be necessary to occasionally explain and defend why you believe something or behave a certain way. Women and men in Malawi are not considered adults until they marry and have children. This being the case, Volunteers should expect curiosity from host country friends regarding their marital status and whether or not they have children.
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 should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within your country of service, and should strive to be an ally to your peers of Color. Peace Corps Malawi staff members have gone through extensive training on how to support the diversity seen in Peace Corps. All Volunteers will also attend diversity trainings intermittently during their service in order to build knowledge and awareness and share stories.
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 in which the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities. 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 Malawian community members at the end of their service. This has been met with both positive and negative reactions. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community and have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and fellow Volunteers. 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. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers must know that Malawi is still a very conservative society. Many Malawians are in denial that same-sex relationships actually exist in their culture. Thus, any display of minority sexual orientations may be severely frowned upon. Many previous Volunteers have decided to serve in Malawi without sharing their sexual preferences with their community. Some LGBTQA Volunteers expressed that if they were to have displayed their sexual orientation, it would have had adverse effects on their relationships with their community and co-workers.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
There is little infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities compared to what we see in the United States. Peace Corps Volunteers who have a disability will be taken care of to the best of our ability, but there are not many options for disabled host country nationals to get the services or treatment they need. Interestingly, Malawians with physical disabilities are usually treated no differently than any other Malawians. They are still expected to complete the same work, but perhaps not through the same methods.
Many Malawians consider the fact that you are a Westerner a disability in itself. They may not think you are able to do manual work such as carrying water, cooking over a fire, hand washing laundry, or gardening. They do not believe that Americans are capable of such strenuous physical labor and may be surprised when you do these sorts of activities.
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 or married couples who do not have or do not want children. 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 to help reduce stress for you both.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Whether you practice a religion or not, you will probably find the Malawian practice of religion different than that in the United States. You will notice how deeply religion is ingrained into the culture by the everyday conversations you hear or things you see. Malawians enjoy conversing, and they enjoy religion, so it makes sense that they love conversing about religion. Malawians, compared to other societies, are very tolerant of religions different from their own. Although Malawi is a mostly Christian nation, there is still a large Muslim population as well. The biggest issue Volunteers seem to face is when they are non-believers. Malawi is a very religious nation and a lack of belief is almost incomprehensible for many people living in the villages. Some Volunteers choose to keep their non-belief to themselves. tell neighbors that they "pray" in their houses, or keep their actual beliefs vague until they have built a trusting relationship. Despite your actual beliefs or lack thereof, Volunteers find that one of the easiest ways of meeting people in their communities or becoming integrated is by going to a local service, of any denomination, with neighbors or co-workers.
Traditional beliefs are still rampant in Malawian villages, despite the influence of other religions. Topics like witchcraft, magic, curses, traditional medicine, and initiation ceremonies are almost sure to come up during your service. This can be a great opportunity for cultural exchange.
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. However, 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, or they may find it exhausting to seek approval and permission for things like travel. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.