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.
Many American women find Philippine society chauvinistic. This includes aggressive talk and behavior by men towards women, male boasting about their conquests, female ogling unconstrained about the feelings of the girl of woman, and rude jokes with explicit sexual content and profanity. Men are also allowed much greater freedom than women. For example, Filipinos expect female but not male Volunteers to travel with a companion. Because of depictions in the media, some Filipinos assume American women are promiscuous. Behavior by women that is considered normal in the United States— such as jogging in shorts or wearing a swimsuit to swim—may reinforce this stereotype, especially in rural areas, and may lead to sexual harassment. Female Volunteers should not wear short skirts, haltertops, or other revealing clothing. In addition, some Filipinos may have a hard time understanding what a single woman is doing away from her family. Female Volunteers accustomed to being independent may feel overprotected and may resent encouragement from Filipinos to get married. Despite these issues, the overwhelming majority of female Volunteers feel safe and happy in the Philippines.
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.
African-American Volunteers may experience racist attitudes but are more likely to face great curiosity from Filipinos about everything from intimate habits to food preferences. All Volunteers can expect to be stared at, but African Americans may get more stares. African-American Volunteers may work or live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of black American culture. They may use offensive terms, although these are more likely to be used because of ignorance than because of malice. There are parts of the Philippines where use of the “N” word and other offensive terms is prevalent, but this is used out of ignorance or misunderstanding of such language, rather than a malicious intent. Asian-American Volunteers may be identified more by their ethnic background than by their American citizenship. They may have to deal with Filipinos’ stereotypical views about other Asian cultures (e.g., all Chinese are rich traders). Mistaken for Filipinos, on the other hand, Asian-American Volunteers may be given less assistance than other Volunteers. People may expect an Asian American to speak their language and to know local customs. By the same token, by blending in, Asian Americans may not be stared at as often as other Volunteers are.
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].
In the mindsets of conservative Filipinos who might be the parents of a Volunteer’s students or the
leading figures at Volunteer worksites, being openly LGB might not be compatible with their idea of the
role of respected professional that Volunteers are expected to fulfill. Volunteers who are immediately
open to their Philippine communities about their sexual orientation might limit their acceptability and
potential for success as development workers.
Although public expressions of hatred against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are very infrequent, LGBT Volunteers must contend with a commonly held attitude among Filipinos that gays and lesbians
are comic characters and fair game for teasing. The situation is so varied from place to place, that each
Volunteer must decide for himself or herself the most comfortable and effective way to balance possible
issues about their sexual orientation with their need to integrate successfully into a new community and
gain acceptance in a new culture. Going slowly is the best approach.
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].
Buildings in the Philippines generally are not accessible for people with disabilities. Only a few hotels and other establishments are equipped with wheelchair ramps, although some movie houses in big cities now have toilets with big doors. These deficits are largely made up for by the sheer humanity of the people. When they see a person with a disability, Filipinos behave perfectly naturally, without ingratiating themselves in an embarrassing way. And there is always someone around with a helping hand.
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.