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Navigating Identities in Zambia

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 Zambia’s 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 Zambia, you may face a special set of challenges. In Zambia, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them.

There is very 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

Zambia has a patriarchal culture; men and women are expected to fulfill distinct roles and responsibilities. In rural areas, Volunteers will find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. The behavior of Volunteers identifying or presenting as women is more often scrutinized or criticized by host communities than that of their peers identifying or presenting as men. Volunteers may find that they are frequently asked about their marital status and whether they have children.

LGBTQI+ considerations

The US State Department provides the following information for Americans coming to Zambia:

LGBTQI+ Travelers: Zambian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity and penalties for conviction of engaging in “acts against the order of nature” are 15 years to life imprisonment. The lesser charge of “gross indecency” carries penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment.

LGBTQI+ persons in particular are at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access health services.

See our LGBTQI+ Travel Information page and section 6 of ourHuman Rights report for further details.

LGBTQI+ Travel Information

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) travelers can face unique challenges when traveling abroad.

Zambia | Human Dignity Trust

Penal Code, Section 155 Unnatural Offences

Section 155 criminalizes sex between men with a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Penal Code, Section 156 Attempt to Commit Unnatural Offences

Section 156 criminalizes any attempt to commit ‘unnatural offences’ prohibited under section 155 with a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Penal Code, Section 158 Indecent Practices Between Persons of the Same Sex

Section 158 criminalizes acts of ‘gross indecency’ both between men and between women with a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

However, these issues are rarely prosecuted, namely because the Zambian constitution also includes an overarching anti-discrimination clause.

LGBTQI+ individuals, including Volunteers, can still be the subject of harassment or discrimination. The vast majority of the Zambian population is intolerant of non-heteronormative sexual and gender identities. The Zambian Penal Code explicitly criminalizes same-sex sexual relations between both men and women. In 2005 the Zambian penal code was amended to clearly outline the penal code for males, females and children separately who engage in homosexual acts i.e. “act of gross indecency with a female child or person” (section 158). Also, section 155a states that it is criminalized for “any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and this could be interpreted to include women, transgender and intersex people as well.

Volunteers are strongly encouraged to consider personal safety and all community integration implications before any thought of sharing this part of their identity with community members.

Staff and peers are always available for confidential consultation on this matter. Generally speaking, Volunteers have told us they feel they can be open with other Volunteers, and they are able to identify support mechanisms and networks outside of their host community.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure, some Zambians 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.

In Zambian cities and towns, it is fair to say that most Zambians are aware of some of the different racial and ethnic groups that exist in the United States. However, among rural populations, the level of knowledge and understanding is less.

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers are often subject to an assumption that they are Chinese, an association in Zambia that is not always positive due to local prejudices that accompany political and economic tensions and can also lead to demands for money. This can be disconcerting and unpleasant for Volunteers of Chinese or any Asian descent, and empathy and support of staff and allyship of peer Volunteers is essential. Asian American Volunteers may be subject to stereotypes based on behavior Zambians have observed in films (such as being assumed to be experts at kung fu) and based on Zambia’s current or historical involvement with Asian countries. They also may not be seen as American.
  • Black/African American Volunteers may not be recognized as Americans and may be asked what their tribal language and customs are. They may be expected to learn local languages more quickly than other Volunteers. Black/African American Volunteers may be accepted more readily into the culture than other Volunteers or treated according to local social norms because it is assumed they are African. They may be perceived as considering themselves superior to Africans. They also may experience microaggressions from community members, such as being unseen (e.g., White Volunteers getting served before Black Volunteers by restaurant staff even though they were there first).
  • Hispanic/Latinx Volunteers may not be recognized as being American. They may be labeled as Cubans or Mexicans. Zambians may assume they are White because media representation of Hispanic/Latinx individuals is minimal or nonexistent in Zambia. Hispanic/Latinx Volunteers can expect to be prepared to describe to others their background, heritage, and to explain that though they live in the U.S., they may have been raised in a culture different from a Zambian stereotype of an American.
  • 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 example of 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.

Age considerations

There is no upper age limit to serve in the Peace Corps and Volunteers in their eighties are currently serving. Approximately six percent of Volunteers are over 50. 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. The Volunteer experience is rewarding, but it can be challenging in different ways. Older Volunteers may find this includes adapting to less structure, developing strategies for language learning in pre-service training, having less input in their housing choices, and having less freedom of movement. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Check out the Peace Corps 50+ Facebook group for more information.

"I love sharing my story about being a Peace Corps Volunteer, especially with people who say, 'I wanted to do that when I was in college, but my parents wouldn’t let me go, and I’m too old now.' I turned 80 during my service."

Religious considerations

Zambia is a declared Christian nation; most Zambians have some religious affiliation and attend church regularly. Zambia has a wide variety of Christian faiths, followers of Islam, and a few other religions, such as Hindu and Bahá'í in Zambia. The questions, “Are you a Christian?” and “What church do you go to?” are conversation starters. Volunteers may be chastised for not observing Christian beliefs or asked to explain why they don’t practice a certain Christian denomination. They may be expected to attend church with their communities, or they may be actively recruited by a Christian group. Volunteers may have difficulty conveying their beliefs due to language and cultural barriers.

Considerations 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 binary gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging in very different ways based on gender. 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.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

For ICDEIA support in Zambia, Volunteers have access to staff who have received Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility training and the Peer Support and Diversity Network (PSDN) which is comprised of trained Volunteers who provide one-on-one support and outreach as well as link Volunteers to available resources. PSDN is a support resource at Post to promote Volunteer well-being and resilience.

Peer support is provided by and for people with similar experiences. Peer support can be both in formal and informal situations, and can occur in a one-on-one encounter, a group setting, or on a community level. Informal peer support amongst Trainees/Volunteers occurs naturally starting on day one of Peace Corps service. What differentiates PSDN from informal peer support is that all PSDN members are selected by the Post and received training on how to provide effective peer support. The structured training equips PSDN members with the knowledge and skills to support their peers; the formalized program offers the PSDN with appropriate staff guidance and resources to further assist their fellow Volunteers.