Afghanistan MP Elay Ershad looks out upon the elegant gathering of men and women under starry skies on the open-air terrace of Kabul’s Park Star Hotel. Two years into her tenure, and the public is still focused on her public deportment rather than her politics. Tomorrow, Ershad predicts, she will be condemned for mingling in a crowd of men. “I don’t care,” she exclaims.
A 43-year-old single mother, Ershad is working to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters, aged 21 and 16. The biggest challenge, says Ershad, stylish in jeweled sandals, white headscarf, embroidered black tunic and pink lipstick, is the absence of rule of law. The country has excellent legislation criminalizing child marriage, forced marriage, rape and beatings. But the laws are rarely enforced. Ershad also criticizes the treatment of women in divorce court. “The judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’ ” Divorce often means losing custody of the children. “Why does Parliament accept this much pain?” Ershad demands.