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.
Traditional or stereotyped gender roles are more prevalent in Moldova than they are in the United States. One estimate stated that Moldovan women do 300 percent more work in the home than men do. And it is common for a man to enter a room and shake every other man‘s hand while completely ignoring the women who are present. Although Americans are often bothered by such behavior, women do not have a subordinate role in Moldova. Historically, they have been a vital part of the workforce, taking on both managerial and supervisory positions. Moldovan women work as school administrators, business owners, doctors, local government officials, and members of Parliament. Female Volunteers should not expect, however, to be able to continue all of their American practices in Moldova. Adapting to local mores and customs is a necessity for Peace Corps Volunteers wherever they are. Moldovan women generally lead more restricted lifestyles than American women do. For instance, Moldovan women do not go out alone at night, and jogging or walking alone for exercise is uncommon. Women in villages do not usually smoke in public, and all Moldovans tend to speak more quietly than Americans do in public places. While these activities are not forbidden for Volunteers, sometimes they have to make compromises and alter their behavior. Female Volunteers are advised to avoid eye contact with men who are strangers, especially on buses and in the street.
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.
African-American Volunteers often express frustration and disappointment at being asked where they are from because when they answer ―African American‖ or ―black American,‖ some Moldovans react with surprise or disbelief. Although they may be the subject of frequent stares and questions as well as occasional insults, most African-American Volunteers say they are well accepted in their communities after an initial settling-in period. There is a small population of students and business people from Africa in Chisinau, and some African Americans are assigned to the U.S. Embassy. Hispanic American Volunteers have found that some Moldovans stereotype them as similar to the characters they watch in the popular Latin American soap operas on television. Also, some Hispanic American Volunteers have been misidentified as Romany (a.k.a., gypsies) and have been harassed according to local stereotypes and prejudices related to this population. Asian-American Volunteers often find that they stand out more than Caucasians, as there are relatively few ―East Asians‖ (Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asians) in Moldova. People may assume that Asian-American Volunteers are from China, and may express skepticism that they are Americans. In addition some Asian American Volunteers have reported being stopped more frequently by local police to check their identification. While much of this extra attention is not intended to be negative, it can be tiresome. Many of these irritations dissipate as Volunteers become better known in their communities.
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.
Sexual and gender minorities are misunderstood and generally not accepted by the majority of Moldovans, and discussing the issue of sexual orientation may be problematic. It is advisable to use discretion because you may experience difficulties if your community becomes aware of your sexual orientation, compromising your ability to be effective. Peace Corps staff in Moldova can provide you with information on organizations in Moldova that are working on issues concerning sexual orientation, and there is a Volunteer Gender Workgroup of gay, lesbian, bisexual and ally Volunteers, whose coordinator and members can also provide information and support. There is a small community of LGB Moldovans in Chisinau, which is becoming increasingly active and hosts social events, but there are few other social activities or meeting places. As a result, LGB Volunteers may experience loneliness and isolation. This is especially true for those who live in communities outside of Chisinau. As a result, you may encounter bias and prejudice about gays and lesbians. You will need to be cautious about who you come out to among your Moldovan friends. However, you are encouraged to be out with Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Peace Corps/Moldova is committed to ensuring an environment that is safe, secure, and accepting of all forms of diversity. You will find staff and your Volunteer peers to be very supportive.
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.
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
There are no official or societal restrictions with regard to religious belief in Moldova. The primary religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is divided between those affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church and those affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. There are also congregations of Jews, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and others. Religion is an important part of life for many, but by no means all, Moldovans. Most towns and villages have at least one Orthodox church, and some also have small Baptist churches.
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.