#MeToo at Home and Family Gatherings

Originally published at Free Women Writers, here

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Written by: Marjan Asadullah

The conversation about harassment, sexual assault, and rape in the workplace, on the streets, or even on college campuses has dominated headlines. It seems like every corner you turn, there is someone coming forward with a story or someone going on a hiatus from being accused of wrongdoings. The enormous amount of attention the movement has received continuously makes the hashtag relevant as more survivors speak out.

Wherever there is a man with unchecked power, there seem to be a handful of women who have been hurt from his abuse and deception.

The conversation has reached every corner of the world. Doctors, teachers, actors, politicians, anchors, boyfriends, or even just friends played a part in causing some sort of turmoil in the lives of the women they knew. And not to add salt to the wound, but I think we can improve on having a more honest conversation about this. Harassment and sexual abuse are not exclusive to the workplace or the streets. It can, and often does, happen in the places we assume are the safest: in our homes.

A part of abuse and harassment among relatives is driven by the fact that marriages between cousins are prevalent and even courage among Afghans. I’ve realized some people may not know but in the Afghan culture, it’s relatively normal for cousins to get married. It’s not unusual to see first cousins, sister/brother-in-law’s, or far relatives exchange vows. Some people prefer this route as they know the families their child will be going to, some might feel this is their only option as they’re approaching a certain age, and some might actually develop feelings for their cousin. Whatever the reason might be, it’s socially and culturally accepted.

There are a lot of people in my family who chose this path and are happy with their decision. However, I think it’s important to realize that simply because you can marry your cousin, it doesn’t mean that unwanted or uncomfortable attention is acceptable from them, or any male relatives for that matter. Because of the possibility of a future union and because they are certain that due to stigma, women won’t raise their voices, sexual harassment and abuse by relatives is not an anomaly. While there is no research to show the extent of this problem, I’ve heard about many instances and this issue remains an open secret.

There must be a level of precaution taken, even at an ordinary family gathering, to avoid experiencing the next #MeToo story.

This is especially important in tightknit communities like ours where women and girls are taught to be kind and polite, even when the person they are dealing with doesn’t merit it. Due to fear of being blamed, many remain quiet when advances begin and by the time an uncomfortable encounter turns into harassment or assault, they feel they can’t get out of because they haven’t said anything from the beginning.

If harassment or abuse happens in the workplace, a woman may quit or leave for another job. If it happens on the streets, she might avoid the street or have someone with her next time. However, what happens if this uncomfortable attention comes from a relative in our own family, someone we can’t avoid or point fingers at to avoid being shamed?

The #MeToo movement was essentially created so that women can come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and violence and those experiences are not exclusive to the workplace or the streets. It can surely happen in someone’s home, where uncles, cousins, family friends or neighbors can get away with silencing someone into fear and shame.