This week is annual Peace Corps Week, celebrating President Kennedy’s creation of the Corps in 1961. Since the founding of the Peace Corps, countless volunteers have gone to hundreds of countries to serve on projects improving health, agriculture, business, and more. From the time of its creation to present day, one of the biggest challenges Peace Corps volunteers have faced is electing to remove themselves from the creature comforts and life that they know. The ability to leave behind your family, friends, and home is an incredible task, and every year thousands of volunteers do it. At PAI, we have several Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Morocco, the Central African Republic, and Cameroon. To hear about their experiences and the sacrifices they made is nothing short of inspiring.
Today on Capitol Hill, the National Peace Corps, Returned Peace Corps volunteers, and other advocates are meeting with members of Congress to talk about the work they’ve done, the outcomes of their time abroad, and the impacts the communities had on their lives. Each story comes with a unique perspective. Sadly, one story that some will share is that many female volunteers experience high levels of daily sexual harassment, and in some cases, even assault. The Peace Corps has made great strides in improving their support systems for helping women who report such instances; however there is one major aspect that the federal government still needs to fix.
Volunteers dealing with sexual assault do not have access to the same comprehensive health care that almost every other woman in government service does. Since 1979, women in the Peace Corps have been denied coverage for abortion services even in case of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Those serving are willing to take on many risks—but this is a step too far.
This inequality could be fixed by the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013, which would remove the prohibition on female volunteers having access to these services. A simple legislative fix by Congress could give peace of mind to thousands of volunteers. Support those on Capitol Hill today and ask your Senator to co-sponsor the Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013 (though the title says 2013 the bill is still active for the remainder of the 113th session until December 2014, and there is still plenty of time to add co-sponsors). If they are already a co-sponsor, thank them for their support, and encourage them to speak to their colleagues about the simple repair they could do to honor our nation’s Peace Corps volunteers.
The House has also not introduced a version of the Peace Corps Equity Act, so now is the time to reach out to your representative to help them learn more about the issue and about becoming a sponsor. Finally, if the thought of Congressional outreach is a big first step, you can always start with your own social networks, by posting or tweeting about the issue to your friends. Any step on supporting female volunteers on this issue is a step in the right direction.