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.
Mozambique’s long history of male labor migration, displaced communities, and wartime insecurity has led to a decline in the traditional values that used to offer support if marriages broke down. As a result, many Mozambican women throughout the country support their households alone. Although Mozambique’s constitution provides for the equality of men and women, in reality women have the less-favored position legally, economically, and customarily. The culture of male-female relationships is very conservative, and there is very little public affection between males and females. Learning to live and work in this environment can be challenging for female Volunteers, who are likely to experience some form of sexual harassment or have different expectations placed on them because they are women.
Fewer than 20 percent of teachers at the secondary-school level are women, fewer than 50 percent of secondary students are female, and even fewer women attend technical schools. In rural areas, where 62 percent of the population lives, women are engaged in subsistence farming and child rearing, and girls have less time for school. On the other hand, the majority of community health workers at health posts are female. The independent lifestyles of many women raised in the United States (i.e., living alone as a single woman) will often appear odd or be seen as cause for medo (fear) or loneliness to Mozambicans. It is important to realize that they are not seeking to restrict your independence but are merely expressing concern and curiosity based on a different upbringing. You should be able to resolve the situation simply by explaining that this is the way you are used to living. Another issue female Volunteers inevitably face in Mozambique is their immediate popularity with men.
Female Volunteers quickly realize that “amigo” sometimes has an added connotation here and that they should not be surprised if every other bus driver falls in love with them in the course of a 30-minute drive. The hardest part of such situations is the defensive attitude they may provoke in you. If you can be abundantly clear about your intentions from the beginning, it will save you trouble in the end. You will need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not drinking alone in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in your community. Mozambicans are very generous, and the time you spend with Mozambican women will be endearing and enlightening. The friendships you form with women, and even men, within your community and throughout Mozambique are sure to be a positive aspect of your time in Mozambique.
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.
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. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].
Although same-sex relationships are not criminalized for adults in Mozambique, it is not widely accepted and rarely practiced publicly, especially outside the capital city Maputo. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers are thus not likely to be able to be open about their sexual orientation. Peace Corps/Mozambique has open gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers who are presently serving. Many of these Volunteers are open in discussing with staff the ways in which sexual orientation relates to life here in Mozambique.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, jobsites, 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.
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
An estimated 17.9 percent of Mozambicans are Muslims and approximately 56.1 percent are Christians. Traditional African faiths are widespread and often combined with Christian or Muslim beliefs. The northern region is predominantly Muslim, while the central and southern regions are more diverse. Mozambicans are quite tolerant of religious differences, and there is little, if any, conflict among people of different faiths.
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.