Saudi Arabia, often regarded as the threshold of Islam and notorious for what I believe are crimes against humanity, recently gave citizenship to a female robot, named Sophia. Sophia was the first robot in history to be bestowed official citizenship and delivered a speech in the country’s capital of Riyadh, where she expressed her gratitude for the honor. Sophia has been revolutionary in the field of artificial intelligence and is one of the most life-like models to have been produced thus far. Truly an innovation, it’s easy to see why a country like Saudi Arabia would want to invest in Sophia, however considering that it was only last month that Saudi Arabia lifted the driving ban for women, and still limits women’s rights to the highest degree, giving a female robot citizenship and more freedom seems ironic. And Twitter was definitely here to drag the Saudi government. Here are just a few reactions:
Saudi Arabia has been a hotspot for breeding misogynistic ideology and promoting sexism blatantly. The country operates under a monarchy heavily influenced by a twisted version of Islam, one that is not true to its original form and has been altered according to the needs or beliefs of these Kings. Some controversial laws include women needing a male guardian to step outside, women needing to be covered from head to toe, homosexuality being punishable by serving prison time and facing abuse, penalties for alcohol, penalties for blasphemy, and the suppression of holding another religious belief, or even another denomination of Islam that is not Wahhabism or Salafism. Not to mention getting citizenship in Saudi Arabia is next to impossible, something that has made life for the millions of foreign workers (mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc) very hard.
Because Sophia has been granted citizenship, many have wondered if these rules will apply to her. Sophia’s religious beliefs are unknown, which under Saudi Law makes her a perpetrator. She doesn’t seem to be constantly escorted by males and can freely speak in their presence, she doesn’t appear to meet the Saudi standard of modesty, and we’re not too sure how she feels about the monarchy. This would make Sophia eligible for persecution, however, because she is a robot she does not have to worry about these very real consequences that have slammed the women (and men who disagree or are affected by these completely inhuman and unfair laws) of Saudi Arabia into corners and cages. Sophia, an artificial life form, now has more freedom and rights than 100% of the women in the Saudi kingdom, and this raises a lot of questions about the intention of the Saudi government and lawmakers. Are they afraid real non-robotic women will finally tear down this government if they are given a taste of freedom? Are their egos this fragile, and their minds so narrow, that they are threatened by a woman in a miniskirt who holds a Ph.D.? Do they fear the state of their country if women were to congregate without the presence of a man?
Sophia has been a revolutionary advancement in the field of technology, however, she also serves as a very unfortunate reminder that the women of Saudi Arabia will never be liberated willingly unless the Saudi infrastructure and government are drastically changed. Sophia is a reminder that to the Saudi Government, a real woman, a human, does not deserve a taste of freedom. They don’t want to give human women rights because they always want to have this leash over them, this undoubted presence that lingers, they gave this robot rights because these men program her, they control her, they input their beliefs into her, and they know they will never be able to do this to real women so they do the next best thing: they treat them like second-class citizens and prevent them from progressing, from unifying, and from overthrowing their misogynistic reign.
Change is in the air, and one day this oppressive Saudi “culture” will crumble. This monarchy will fall. One day, the women of Saudi Arabia will burn their leashes and we will see that this underground resistance that has been brewing has not faded or gone away as Saudi Arabia has imposed more and more misogynistic laws, we will see them rise. Saudi Arabia cannot silence women anymore and in trying to destroy their morale, their voice, their opinions they have bred an army of strong, powerful, resilient women who are working to create a culture of change within the system.