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Navigating Identities in Namibia

Peace Corps’ Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (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, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

As a Volunteer with disabilities in Namibia, you may face a special set of challenges. In Namibia, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them. We have supported Volunteers with disabilities, with urban areas tending to be more accommodating.

While there is little of the infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States, staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

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 roles can benefit or limit activities and behaviors—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.

Namibia has made great strides in advancing gender equity in the government and the private sector. Women hold ministerial portfolios and senior-level government and private sector posts. However, less educated women at the lower ends of the socioeconomic scale tend to have less authority and control over income, spending, and reproductive health. This situation is driven as much by the lingering pattern of migratory labor (i.e., adult males working away from the homestead) as by tradition. Thus, women and Volunteers presenting as women may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality in rural areas.

Because of the differences in cultural norms for women and men, Volunteers presenting as women may receive unwanted sexual attention. Whistling and cat calling are unfortunately common. This is accentuated by prevalent and heavy alcohol use during social interactions and cultural events such as weddings.

Volunteers presenting as women may find that they are constantly asked about their marital status and whether they have children because women of a certain age are expected to be married.

LGBTQI+ considerations

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. Namibia has a more restrictive culture regarding sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities. Many Namibians consider all same-sex sexual activity taboo. Peace Corps staff work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Peace Corps recommends that LGBTQI+ Volunteers not disclose until they have established relationships in country; if they are in rural areas, Peace Corps may recommend not to disclose at all. Volunteers should let staff know at the beginning of their service if they are concerned so that staff can place them in areas with more open perspectives.

More information about serving as an LGBTQI+ Volunteer is available on the State Department’s Travel Information page on Namibia under Local Laws and Special Circumstances. Namibia International Travel Information (state.gov).

Same-sex relationships have been the topic of much heated debate in Namibia. Human rights proponents argue that the Constitution protects individuals regardless of sexual orientation, while others argue that same-sex relationships should be deemed criminal.

LGBTQI+ Volunteers may discover they cannot be open about their sexual orientation in their community. Peace Corps Namibia is committed to ensuring that staff members understand the challenges of LGBTQI+ Volunteers.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure, some community members will expect all U.S. citizens to be White, and are unaware of racial diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a community member 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 community members. 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 fellow Volunteers.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in Namibia. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “ Chino” or racial slurs. Microagressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common. Volunteers of South Asian and Pacific Island descent may also experience microaggressions and may not be initially viewed as Americans. People of Asian descent have a reputation in Namibia for being good at business as well as hardworking.

Black/African American Volunteers: Some Black Volunteers find they blend in and may be presumed to be Namibian. This can put pressure on Black Volunteers for whom there may be high expectations for speaking local language. It can lead to awkward conversations also for the Volunteers. Staff are ready to support Volunteers should this challenge arise.

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers: These Volunteers may not be believed to be American which could lead to awkward discussions.

White Volunteers: Will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important as a Volunteer. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention more often because of this aspect of their identity. It is common for all Volunteers to be asked regularly for money or gifts, which is exhausting. Staff provide advice in how to navigate this challenge.

Age considerations

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. 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. 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.

Religious considerations

Churches play a vital role in the life of most rural communities in Namibia. As such, they are social as well as religious institutions, and you will find them to be a source of information and support regarding community events and practices. Community members frequently ask Volunteers about their religious affiliation and may expect them to attend a community church. Volunteers not in the practice of attending Christian churches may be challenged to explain a decision not to attend. Some larger towns have mosques as well.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from community members to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Community members 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 or learn local language 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 can help reduce stress for you both.

Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children, etc. Couples should prepare to respond to this question from the community before coming to post.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Post has two ICDEIA points of contact who support the team to consider ICDEIA aspects in training and service. Post has an active Peer Support Network which provides support to all Volunteers. Post also links Volunteers to various affinity groups so they can get support as needed. During pre-service training, Volunteers discuss aspects of ICDEIA and how Volunteers may face issues during their service. The training team comprises of staff from various tribal groups to be able to respond to varying scenarios depending on where the Volunteer will be placed.