Our Best Diplomats: Women in the Peace Corps

Elaine Chao – Time Ideas – Friday, 23 March 2012 (originally published 19 Mar)

Caitrin Martin served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal from 2007-2009, working in the agriculture sector to educate her community on soil conservation and water well construction. Image:Edward Perry / Peace Corps

Fifty years ago, 65 percent of the people volunteering to join the Peace Corps were men and 35 percent were women. Today, those numbers have flipped, with 66 percent of volunteers during the 2000s women and 34 percent men. This change, gradual over the five decades, represents women’s commitment to and confidence in international work and a steadiness of America’s spirit to volunteer, born three centuries ago. Of the over 4,000 women currently serving as volunteers, about 250 are over 50 years old, blogging and uploading photos for friends and relatives back home as they work in education, health, nutrition, small business, agriculture in 74 countries worldwide.

When Peace Corps was first proposed, some in Congress assumed that only men would be Volunteers. Sargent Shriver consistently reinforced that “men and women” would serve. In a letter to a Congressman, Shriver said:  ”The women of our country have much to contribute to the peoples of other lands, and the Peace Corps will rely greatly upon their talents.”  The impact of the diversity of American culture was represented from the beginning in the women who served.

Approximately 90,000 returned female volunteers are working and raising families in the United States today. They are executives in corporations, universities, nonprofit organizations, artists, social workers, and writers, Ambassadors, AID project managers, and senior State Department Foreign Service officers. . .