Counterpart relations across genders: Volunteers speak

You asked, we investigated! Some volunteers wanted to hear suggestions or advice for working with counterparts of the opposite sex. We polled current volunteers from all sectors and here’s how volunteers responded in their own words…
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Males PCVs with Female CPs …

“I always hear comments or chisme about how I’m dating the profeI work with. When it’s kids from class I tell them that we just work together, but when it’s adults making jokes I laugh it off.”
“I made a point to get to know my profes’ husbands and families. And also just co-plan at times and places they feel comfortable with.”
“I work with all women in both my schools. This can be challenging at times. It can be hard to feel a part of the community there although I get along with most of them individually. I haven’t really found anything (activity or topic of conversation) to make me feel more part of the community. I work there and have confianza with my profess, but my communities are elsewhere.”
“I have noticed that even my female professors seem to think that the boys are better at math and science like the states, and there is a machista attitude where boys are called on more. You have to create systems in the classroom for questioning the kids and encourage the girls to participate more with positive reinforcement.”
“It was very helpful for me to build a relationship with my counterpart’s whole family, especially with her husband because there is that machismo culture where they’re very territorial and could think this random gringo volunteer is trying to come in and steal their woman. Spending the time with the whole family was very successful for me. I wasn’t specifically saying it, but I was showing that I’m here to work with my counterpart (no hidden motives).”
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Female PCVs with Male CPs …

Getting along outside work:

“If he has one, get to know his wife (or girlfriend or mother of his kids). Always stay professional, and if you ever get to feeling uncomfortable, address it right from the start.”
“My relationships with my male counterparts have been mostly more professional than the friendships I developed with the other female teachers in the schools.”
“Follow your gut instinct. I have one professional counterpart who has never attempted anything with me, but that took a while to develop and for me to trust that he wasn’t up to anything. If they are good guys, they will know they need to prove it because they know a lot of males are not!”
“I couldn’t work with a grade because of a creepy man, but I have closer relationships with female profess than a guy would because husbands aren’t jealous of me.”

Imbalanced work relationships:

“Male counterparts can be difficult to work with in my experience because when they’re not hitting on you, they are busy undercutting your ability to work in a manual capacity. To help deal with it, explain what training you have received and why they should not undermine your abilities in front of students. Worst case scenario: have your APCD straighten it out.”
“I work at the library to keep our planning in a neutral place. I have discussed piropos with him and we agreed to not allow it to fly in class. I discourage dividing the class into groups by gender.”
“I’ve faced many experiences while teaching and in the school where I’m considered the “assistant” to my male counterparts or just not as respected as much as they are because of my gender and young age. It was also because my male teachers have made inappropriate comments and even jokes that have made me feel uncomfortable. Rather than showing my frustration and getting upset in front of my students, I waited until after class and in private to discuss my concerns with how they treated me. Many times, it helped the situation and prevented there from being another future incident, but in one instance, it continued to bother me working with one of my counterparts. I then asked for help from a PC staff member who was able to articulate the importance of my problem much better than I could have.”
“I have luckily worked with two male counterparts that were very respectful and professional and took me seriously. I feel like that is the exception rather than the norm, however, concerning male counterparts.”
“I have never planned at one of my male counterpart’s house, nor have I visited his house, because of the fear of his jealous wife. He has never invited me to his house (which is rare for the Nicaraguan culture) and has told me several times that his wife is jealous of him working with a female volunteer. To solve this problem, we plan at the school at the same time every week, usually, and I continue to keep our counterpart relationship as professional as possible in the school only.”

Communication:

“I learned quickly that I had to start from the basics and have a lot of compassion when talking to my male counterpart about feminism and gender equality. He assumed a feminist was a woman who hated men, and when I responded to situations (inappropriate comments in class, my CP only preparing pictures of males doing sports for class, etc.) with intense emotions, he was more likely to shut off than to listen. I constantly remind myself that many of his beliefs are unconscious and that getting mad at him (though easy) doesn’t help.”
“My CP, who is engaged, just started sending me creepy texts this week in a misguided attempt at seduction. Always be firm and clear that this is not acceptable behavior and don’t be ashamed to stand up for yourself. Just because Peace Corps assigned us CPs doesn’t mean we have to allow them to treat us inappropriately.”
“I had one of the best discussions I’ve ever had with my counterpart after he stated that it was worse for men to be cheated on than vice versa, because I confronted his statement and logic yet we were both able to learn more about each other’s culture through the process. Be diplomatic and respectful of opinions, but you don’t always have to agree to maintain a good relationship.”

Finding a balance:

Don’t sweat the small stuff or ignore things that make you feel uncomfortable. People will possibly make uncomfortable comments about your work relationship, counterparts will probably ask questions that would be considered rude in the States, it’s all par for the course. BUT if you feel that something that your counterpart is saying to you makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable, don’t wait for the problem to go away. I had an incident where a counterpart drunkenly confessed his love to me at a party. I waited for an apology and never got one, and it poisoned our relationship for months because I felt uncomfortable about planning with him. It’s hard to directly confront people, but it’s necessary to get things on the table so they don’t reoccur. If the issue isn’t going away, move on.
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