Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility
Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the United States and bring a wide range of perspectives to development challenges. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a broad collection of attributes that help the Agency advance its mission more appropriately and effectively. These diverse social attributes and identities include: race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, and socioeconomic status, among others. Diversity also encompasses where people have lived, their differences of thought and their life experiences.
From day one, Volunteers are expected to respect the identities of all people, promote equitable practices, and champion inclusion. With formal training and personal reflection, Volunteers continue to build their ICDEIA competencies through reflecting on their own identity and culture, learning about the identities and cultures of their host country, and connecting the two through building bridges of mutual understanding and respect.
Volunteers may also be called to respond to stereotypes about the “typical U.S. American” that may exist in the host community and country. This may be particularly challenging for Volunteers from historically underrepresented groups whose identities do not align with these stereotypes. This work is challenging, but Volunteers aren’t alone. Together, Peace Corps staff, currently serving Volunteers, cultural mentors, and existing support and affinity groups help Volunteers develop strategies to help the Volunteer express their authentic identities, experiences, and values while serving their host country.
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 Peace Corps.
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 how diversity is represented in the Nepali context in terms of ethnicity, age, religion and other social identities. The diversity landscape of your host community may interact with your identity in a way that impacts the depth of conversation community members have with you, the degree of support you receive, and the adjustments you may need to make. During pre-service training, different sessions will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you can bridge differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers.
Accessibility and physically impaired considerations
- As a Volunteer with disabilities in Nepal, you may face a special set of challenges. In Nepal, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them.
- Also, there is very little of the infrastructure developed to accommodate individuals with physical impairment in Nepal.
- Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.
- 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.
Gender role considerations
Historically, Nepal has predominantly been a patriarchal society where women are generally subordinate to men, and this occurs within almost all the ethnic groups.
- Work: In Nepali culture, men have often been raised to take care of the family economically, so they take charge of the public sphere. Women have always had the role of taking care of household chores, and this can lead households to expect a female Volunteer to help in household chores, whereas a male Volunteer offering to do household chores will be asked not to do so, and might be shamed by the men in the house for doing so. Volunteers will have to remain conscious of gender roles and relationship dynamics when working with people of a different gender than their own.
- Mobility: In terms of mobility, female Volunteers may feel that they have less freedom compared to male Volunteers. Community members in Nepal, especially host family members, tend to be protective and are concerned regarding potential threats in the area and this can leave Volunteers feeling restricted in their movements.
- Culture: Due to social and cultural dynamics, staff in public offices may treat male Volunteers with more respect than female Volunteers, and people might talk and seek advice more from male Volunteers. As males are dominant figures in Nepali culture, some females may be shy to speak with male Volunteers, especially in conversations about social, health and nutritional issues affecting females.
- Cultural practices: Depending on the location, religion, and the caste of the Nepali family, menstruation rules may be very strict and rigid for female Volunteers. Some families do not allow menstruating women to enter in the kitchen and worship room at least for five days.
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.
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. Peace Corps Nepal staff are trained on the foundational concepts and skills related to ICDEIA. This includes a basic knowledge/understanding about LGBTQIA+ identities, so please feel free to reach out to staff for further information and support as needed. Peace Corps Nepal staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQIA+ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to selected Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers who are used to being open about their sexual orientation should know that same-sex relationships are not talked about or openly recognized in rural Nepali culture. Nepal has strong traditional values and religious customs, but that does not mean there are no gay, lesbian, or bisexual Nepalis. While there are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations in Nepal, there will be varying degrees of tolerance and acceptance. Host community members may have limited experience with, and assumptions about, members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Racial and ethnic diversity considerations
Volunteers of any racial and ethnic background will receive unwanted attention. It is socially acceptable in Nepali culture for people to comment on Volunteers' physical attributes, yet often perceived as private and sensitive within the Volunteer’s culture. Some commonly asked questions include: Are you married? What does your father do? Occasionally, female Volunteers also might receive catcalls from men. It is widely believed that all Americans are rich. Volunteers are often asked how much money they make, if they can sponsor a visa and arrange someone’s stay in the USA.
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: US American volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as “real” U.S. Americans in Nepal. It is common for all people of Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese.” Micro-aggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common. Some Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers seemed to have integrated and blended in well with the community as characteristics of their appearance may be seen as similar to the Nepali people and they may even be presumed to be Nepali.
- Black/African American Volunteers: There could be some prejudice for the Volunteers with darker skin tones. They might not be considered as Americans rather be referred to as Africans. Nepalis openly refer to African Americans as “habsis” (a derogatory word for black people). Some communities could be hesitant to accept a Black/African American Volunteer.
- Native/Latino/Hispanic Volunteers: Many Nepali communities find physical appearance of Native/Latino/Hispanic Volunteers as similar to their own. As a result, they might not be considered as American Volunteers, due to their hair color and facial looks. Some Native/Latino/Hispanic Volunteers seemed to have integrated and blended in well with the community as characteristics of their appearance may be seen as similar to the Nepali people and they may even be presumed to be Nepali.
- 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 U.S. American, while many of your fellow PCVs 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. There could also be some misconception among people that White people bring money.
Age considerations for older Volunteers
Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset in the country. This may grant them access to certain individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. Age may also give them instant credibility as they are often assumed to be an expert in their field. Although the respect given to older Volunteers because of their age can, at times, be a source of frustration/intercultural conflict. For example, they may be treated with a level of respect and care that older Volunteers may experience as undermining their ability and independence. They may also be the recipient of personal questions about how they are choosing to spend their time at their age. Common questions may include, "don't you have children to look after?" 'Why do you want to work at this age?"
Pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older Trainees if their lifelong learning styles and habits are different from the techniques utilized to prepare Volunteers. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to the lack of structure and clarity in their role if they have worked for many years in a very structured and clearly-defined job. In addition, they may struggle socially to establish a friendship groups, particularly if they are the only or one of few older Volunteers.
As living and environmental conditions in Nepal are basic, and medical services are not readily available in villages, they may need to be prepared to take special health precautions to ensure a healthy completion of service.
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. The legal retirement age in Nepal is 60. Volunteers over 60 years old may sense resentment from community members who were forced to retire at that age.
While Nepal is a secular country and one has the freedom to practice ones’ own religion, Volunteers may sometimes face challenges to practicing their religion while remaining careful not to be perceived as proselytizing. Close to 81 percent of the population in Nepal practices Hinduism. The remaining 19 percent are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, or another faith. Religion forms the core of traditional Nepali life and art. Nepalis are very willing to share their religion with Volunteers, from the morning tika to visiting a sacred temple. Nepalis will generally assume you are Christian and that you eat beef (which Hindus do not eat because cows are considered sacred). If you are of another religion or are an atheist, it may be difficult for them to get past this stereotype. Another possible issue may be the inability to celebrate your own holidays with friends and family around you. There are churches, mosques, and monasteries in Nepal that Volunteers may attend, but they may not be easily accessible. Volunteers must be creative in how they practice their religion.
Considerations for Volunteer couples
- Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country.
- In rural settings of Nepal, it is believed that you must be married to live together. So, there should be a plan to navigate those challenges if you are partnered but not a married couple.
- Men in Nepal are viewed as the dominant gender and as such the man will usually be the person that all questions are directed towards.
- Couples without children may also be questioned heavily about why they do not have children, etc. This is another question that is best to discuss prior and decide as a couple how you will respond to questions like this.
- If couples decide to come to Nepal and cook on their own, post will arrange the accommodation accordingly. So that, they can cook on their own after 3 months of their service.
What types of ICDEIA support are available in-country?
- Peace Corps Nepal has a staff-led ICDEIA Task Force that works to intentionally foster a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture within Peace Corps. The taskforce collaborates with and seeks input from Volunteers on various ICDEIA efforts from working to make training and programming more effective and appropriate to co-creating ideas to strengthen inclusion and belonging for Volunteers, staff, and host country partners.
- Staff periodically meet with host country human rights groups and advocates to better understand the ICDEIA climate in country and invite representatives from local groups to meet with trainees and Volunteers during certain training and programming events.
- The post ICDEIA task force collaborates with the Embassy-based DEIA council to identify potential support avenues and programs that can be helpful for volunteers.