Diversity and Inclusion
For the Peace Corps, diversity is defined as the characteristics and attributes that make each one of us unique. Diversity has many dimensions, including race, gender, physical ability, ethnicity, national origin, nationality, religion, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identification, educational access, and age. Even more broadly, diversity includes, but is not limited, to geographic location, work experience, family status, socio-economic class, and diversity of political thought. Our goal is to leverage the varied experiences and ideas that each individual brings for the good of the Peace Corps and all of the communities that we serve.
We also seek to create inclusion—a culture in which all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential. Inclusivity connects each staff and Volunteer to the Peace Corps’ mission of world peace and friendship and encourages collaboration and fairness.
Once Volunteers arrive at their host communities, diversity and inclusion continue to be valued, but the dynamics are shaped by the Malawian context. You will begin to learn about different social identity groups such as ethnicity, gender, tribalism, religion, and other differences that matter in Malawi. As you become aware of the diversity of perspectives, you may need to make adjustments to your approach to intercultural communication. This may be especially true of you as the only American in your host community.
All Volunteers are expected to honor diversity, advance equity of marginalized peoples, champion inclusion, and treat every human being with dignity and respect—this applies to host community partners, staff, and other Volunteers. During pre-service training, sessions will be held to prepare you with skills to appropriately and effectively navigate intercultural and diversity, equity, and inclusion situations.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and intercultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to support integration. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (your own and that of other U.S. Americans) with your Malawian community and also for learning about Malawi’s diverse cultures.
To ease the transition to life in a new country, you may need to develop techniques and personal strategies for adapting to the Malawian cultural context. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how to adapt personal choices and behavior to be respectful of Malawian culture and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to consider the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You will then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in Malawi and how these gender roles will influence your work—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to the projects you work on with your Malawian counterparts.
There are distinct roles and responsibilities that men and women are expected to fulfill based on the social norms of Malawian culture. These gender norms may be considered “traditional” by most U.S. Americans. Female Volunteers may experience very conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. Likewise, the behaviors of female Volunteers may be more scrutinized and criticized than those of their male peers. Women and men in Malawi are not considered adults until they marry and have children. This being the case, Volunteers should expect curiosity regarding their marital status and whether or not they have children. Although the Peace Corps emphasizes understanding and sensitivity of other cultures, it may be necessary to occasionally explain why you believe something or behave a certain way. This dialogue, when conducted in a mutually respectful manner, can help us understand and value each other across differences.
To learn about some Volunteers’ experiences with gender roles in Malawi, read the stories below:
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Peace Corps is committed to representing the full spectrum of American diversity and cultural richness to the people of our host nations. However, in representing this broad spectrum of Americans overseas, Volunteers may encounter preconceived notions of what it is to be an American as some people in Malawi may be unaccustomed to, or unaware of, racial, cultural, and other differences in the United States. Volunteers who do not match these assumptions may experience a variety of reactions from their co-workers and community, ranging from disappointment to incredulity, confusion to curiosity, and possibly even rejection. Likewise, Volunteers of Color may be mistaken for citizens of Malawi or other nations, or they may encounter instances of subtle or even blatant discrimination. Peace Corps staff are committed to providing support, guidance, and resources for all Volunteers of Color who experience such challenges.
To learn more about the experiences of Volunteers of Color in Malawi, read the stories below:
- “Celebrating and Sharing History and Cultures: Finding Passion Through Service in Malawi”
- “Being a Filipino American in Malawi”
- “Challenging Cultural Norms to Inspire Girls & Women”
- “Honoring the Language”
- "Nanni, Zikomo, & Thank You"
- "Inspiración para Los Cuerpos de Paz"
Possible Issues for Volunteers Who Identify as LGBTQIA+
Peace Corps does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the United States in its recruitment efforts, including LGBTQIA+ communities.
However, homosexual acts in Malawi are illegal. Therefore, our LGBTQIA+ Volunteers must be very discreet about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity within this country. As an agency, however, Peace Corps fosters open, inclusive, and supportive environments for Volunteers who identify as LGBTQIA+.
To learn more about the experiences of Peace Corps Volunteers who identify as LGBTQIA+, read the stories below:
- “Serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer Altered My Outlook”
- “How to Find Your Voice and Your Other Half in Two and a Half Years”
- “Vulnerability is Not a Weakness: Breaking the Silence Around Mental Health”
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Compared to the United States, there is little infrastructure or services to accommodate individuals with disabilities. However, 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.
Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples
Marriage is a valued aspect of Malawian society, and opposite-sex married Volunteer couples may experience an affirming sense of validation for their relationship. However, Volunteer couples may also experience challenges within the cultural context. Unmarried Volunteer couples typically present themselves as married due to the social stigma of cohabitating outside of marriage. Traditional gender norms in Malawi may also present a challenge to Volunteer couples who find that the husband and wife are expected to behave certain ways or do certain chores that are different to what they are accustomed to in the United States. Additionally, they may find it difficult, or tiresome, to explain why they do not have—or do not want to have—children. It is 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 adjusted may help reduce stress for you both.
Possible Issues for Religious Volunteers
Whether you practice a religion or not, you will likely 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, compared to other societies, are very tolerant of religions different from their own. Although Malawi is a mostly Christian nation, there is also a large Muslim population.
Volunteers may choose to share or be private about their own religious beliefs, depending on the circumstances. (Religious proselytizing, however, is not permitted in the Peace Corps.) Regardless, many 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 religious beliefs are also practiced in Malawian villages. Topics like witchcraft, magic, curses, traditional medicine, and initiation ceremonies will likely come up during your service. This can be a great opportunity for cultural exchange.
Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers
Volunteers over the age of 50 may find their age an asset in Malawi culture, aiding their ability to integrate with co-workers, parents, elders, and village leadership. However, pre-service training can be stressful for older trainees, whose learning styles may or may not lend themselves to the contemporary teaching techniques used. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to the Peace Corps context after having worked for many years in a very structured job, or they may find it frustrating to seek approval and permission for things like travel.
To learn more about the experiences of older Volunteers in Malawi, read the stories below: