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?
Gender RolesIt 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.
A female Volunteer in Nepal may face a variety of issues during her two years of service. One possible challenge is overly protective communities and host families. It may feel like a loss of freedom in comparison to what the average American woman is used to. Women are expected to be home by dusk, dress conservatively, and travel in groups. A similar problem may be present at the office, leaving the Volunteer feeling like she is being treated like a child or possibly that her work is taken less seriously. Another issue that female Volunteers should expect while in large cities is harassment. Nepali culture is not overly confrontational, so the most common form of harassment is catcalls. From a distance, men will whistle, call out relatively inoffensive names, or, in rare cases, proposition Western women.
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.
Volunteers may find that some Nepalis believe that all Asian Americans are Japanese, that some Nepalis openly refer to African Americans as “habsis” (a derogatory word for black people), and that some are convinced that Native Americans and Hispanic Americans originate from everywhere but the United States. All Volunteers, however, may experience annoying curiosity or hostility stemming from ignorance, resentment, or jealousy.
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].
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers who are used to being open about their sexual orientation indicate 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. There has been considerable development in the LGBT community in Nepal, and marriage between same-sex couples is legal. An openly gay parliament member was elected and he spearheaded the idea of a “third gender” being included in the census.
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].
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 VolunteersAlthough Nepal is a secular state, close to 81 percent of the population 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.
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
The legal retirement age is 55, though this may be deferred until a person is 60, which is the mandatory retirement age. Volunteers over 60 years old may sense resentment from community members who were forced to retire at that age.