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.
Zambia is a paternalistic society. Young female Volunteers may experience some frustration when Zambian men do not take them seriously at first or view them as children. Female Volunteers may also receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Zambian men. They may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of colleagues in the workplace. They may not be accorded the respect they are normally accustomed to receiving.
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.
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, this level of knowledge and understanding greatly diminishes. African Americans 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. They 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 not be recognized as Americans or may be perceived as considering themselves superior to Africans. They may be discriminated against by white Africans. Hispanic American Volunteers may also be perceived as not being American; they may be labeled as Cubans or Mexicans. Zambians may expect Hispanics to automatically assume different role patterns or to interact socially with more ease. 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.
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 general, Zambians view same-sex relationships as immoral and as something that has been “imported” from Europe. Some sex acts are criminalized in Zambia and although few cases are brought before the courts, it still requires that LGBTs be mindful that anti-gay laws and sentiment exist. While there are certainly LGBT individuals, the level of tolerance will probably not be what it was in the States. Most Zambian LGBTs have probably migrated to the larger cities, while most Volunteers are posted in rural sites.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, 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
Possible Religious Issues for VolunteersZambia is a declared Christian nation; most Zambians have some religious affiliation and attend church regularly. Zambia has a wide variety of Christian faiths, a very small number of Muslims (mainly in the Asian community), and a few other religions, such as Hindu and B’hai. In Zambia, the questions, “Are you a Christian?” and “Do you pray?” 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.
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 matters.