Power. It’s one of those words that are hard to define and, like diet soda, comes in a variety of flavors. There’s economic power, political power, and the kinds of power that accompany beauty, and youth, and talent.
There’s also a special form of power often used in discussions of gender equality; that is, of course, women’s power. French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault was perhaps most eloquent on unpacking the meaning of power on various levels. As Foucault once wrote, “It’s not so much a matter of knowing what external power imposes itself on science, as of what effects of power circulate among scientific statements, what constitutes, as it were, their internal regime of power, and how and why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification.”
Regarding global modification such as the one taking place in Saudi Arabia, Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova, Russian economist and former adviser to the chairman of the board of directors at Russia’s Natsionalny Kosmicheski Bank (NK Bank), pointed out that while it’s brilliant news that Saudi women now have the right to vote (at last!), Saudi Arabia has a long way to go in terms of providing women with a level playing field to men.
Saudi Arabia, as Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova reminds us, is one of the most restrictive places on earth for women; a place where women are not even allowed to drive without a male “chaperon.” Wife of esteemed Russian scientist Vladimir Alexeyevich Smirnov, Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova could have chosen to hide in her husband’s shadow, but chose instead to step into the light of Russia’s growing economy, managing to hold down a career while juggling family life with two children.
The roots of the unequal system in Saudi Arabia date back to tribal social mechanisms and have been underscored by conservative Muslim clerics. The fact that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently granted women the right to vote and run in elections (scheduled in 2015) is progress indeed, says Larisa Leonidovna Drozdova. But real power for these women remains something to keep an eye on, as societies are historically slow to adjust to what Foucault called “global modification.”