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.
Nicaragua has a prevalent culture of machismo, and traditional women’s roles are sometimes undervalued. While there have been quite a few female leaders in Nicaragua over the years, including former President Violeta Chamorro, most women still find their primary role in society to be in the home. There is a high dropout rate among girls in secondary school, a very high incidence of teenage pregnancy, and a high rate of negligent paternity, all of which reinforce the highly defined gender roles. Peace Corps/Nicaragua has a very active gender and development committee that works with Volunteers and Nicaraguans alike to raise consciousness and support culturally appropriate activities that address issues of gender inequality among girls, boys, women, and men in the field.
Female Volunteers may find that being a single woman living alone is considered odd. They may receive more inappropriate and unwanted attention from men than they are accustomed to receiving. They may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Nicaraguan colleagues in the workplace or they may experience resentment from Nicaraguan women for their male-like position of authority in the community. Female Volunteers need to be aware of gender roles in Nicaragua and practice discretion in public to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in their communities (e.g., wear conservative clothing and refrain from smoking in public, drinking in bars, or even dancing with men).
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].
To fit into the conservative Nicaraguan culture, most Volunteers find that there are things about themselves that they choose not to share with their neighbors. Most LGBTQ Volunteers find that it is
more comfortable and convenient for them to be discreet about their sexual orientation with the people in their community because Nicaraguans generally view gay or lesbian relationships as morally wrong. Given the prejudices in the country the LGBTQ community, being out at one’s site could jeopardize one’s professional image and effectiveness. All Volunteers face the challenges of being collaborative in their Nicaraguan communities in their own way. Inquiring about one’s love life is part of Nicaraguan small talk, so LGBTQ Volunteers may find navigating these conversations particularly challenging. Some create imaginary girlfriends or boyfriends, while others try to skirt the issue the best they can. Some Volunteers feel isolated from the identity they may have had in the States, or from other Volunteers for whom the particular challenges that LGBTQ Volunteers face may be difficult to understand. Despite the challenges, many develop meaningful
relationships with people at their sites, make wonderful Peace Corps friends, and have a satisfying service. Currently, there is a support group for LGBTQ Volunteers
organized by Volunteers and supported by Peace Corps/Nicaragua.
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.
In Nicaragua, marriage is an interesting amalgamation of religious, legal, and societal constructs. Many couples in Nicaragua may have been married in a church, but never legally married, nor do they necessarily live together. There are other couples that may be legally married, but never held a ceremony or religious recognition of their marriage. Probably most common are couples that live together and have families together, but are never officially married either religiously or legally. This unique aspect of Nicaraguan marital culture has other implications for Volunteer couples, married, non-married, same-sex, and even single. As mentioned above, different-sex couples whether married legally or not will generally be considered a marital pair. Similarly, since same-sex marriage is neither recognized nor common in Nicaragua, married same-sex couples may find it difficult to explain their marriage to Nicaraguans. Single Volunteers who have dated or are in a relationship may be considered to have been married and/or seeking marriage. An additional aspect of Nicaraguan marital culture is the prevalence of extramarital affairs, and its effect on Volunteer couples. Many Volunteer couples report additional strain on their relationship from the expectation or solicitation of extramarital affairs.
Finally, it is important to note that while there are certainly additional stresses and factors that Volunteer couples will have to face throughout their service, Volunteer couples also benefit from being in a loving relationship and sharing their experience together. They often serve as each other’s support system, coach, motivator, and sounding board. They are there to help each other with cultural adaptation, community integration, and each other’s professional goals. Volunteer couples are also likely to be treated with more respect by community members because marriage is held in high regard as a respectable responsibility and commitment. It is also common for other Volunteers to look to couples for advice and support.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Nicaragua is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with a large evangelical presence, but an influx of Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and other Christian denominations is changing the religious makeup of the country. Non-Christian groups are practically nonexistent, however, which can be a challenge for practicing Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other groups. Most Nicaraguans are curious about and tolerant of other religions, but there is little education about the history, beliefs, and practices of other faiths.