She wears clothes that are moderately suggestive. You can see the outline of her breasts. She doesn’t wear pants (she doesn’t yet have legs but her creators say they’re coming).
Her lips are coloured with lipstick. Her head is uncovered. She has no hair. She even has her own Facebook page.
If she were a woman, she would be arrested in Saudi Arabia. A place where death by stoning in public is still practiced. Where the amputation of children’s limbs is a form of corporal punishment. Where women aren’t permitted a fair trial. And where sons automatically inherit twice that of daughters.
Still, on Wednesday at a Future Investment Initiative event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabian officials granted Sophia citizenship.
“It is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognised with citizenship,” the Centre of International Communication in Saudi Arabia posted to twitter. “Please welcome the newest Saudi: Sophia.”
The “newest Saudi” Sophia speaks with men freely. In April, she appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. She cracked jokes, flirted with Fallon a little, threatened to take his job as host…
In Saudi Arabia, women are ‘owned’ by men. Fathers pass daughters onto husbands. Women aren’t permitted to speak at length with men who aren’t related. In restaurants and public places, there is usually a ‘family’ section and another area reserved just for men. Women must by law wear hijab and abayas, which are long black cloths that cover their figure. Makeup must be moderate, nothing ‘suggestive’ is allowed.
But none of these rules apply to Sophia, the only citizen of Saudi Arabia who identifies as female and is not ‘governed’ by a man.
Typically, citizenship in Saudi Arabia is only permitted if a person is born there and is Muslim. Marrying a Saudi does not automatically grant citizenship – the person must revoke their citizenship to their birthplace. Even permanent residents, who’ve worked in the country for years, are not permitted to apply for citizenship.
Sophia, however – the first robot citizen in the world – was made in America and handed Saudi Arabian citizenship just like that.
— CIC Saudi Arabia (@CICSaudi) October 25, 2017
Sophia was designed as a “social robot”, but her creators, Hanson Robotics, are working on making her more intelligent. The data that streams through her ‘brain’ and the information stored within her system, means Sophia has the ability to work and drive.
Women in Saudi Arabia also have the ability to work and drive. But, according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, only 15 per cent of Saudi women are employed outside the home. And traditionally it’s been thought female drivers might undermine social values.
A bid to make it legal for women to drive in 2014 was floated with restrictions – that women would have to be older than 30 to get behind the wheel, that they could not wear makeup while driving, and that they must be off the road by 8pm.
This year, Saudi women finally won that fight. In June, 2018, for the first time in the country’s history, Saudi women will be permitted to grab the car keys from the bench, slide behind the wheel, and drive down the street to the shops to buy butter.
The Mamamia Out Loud team deep dive on everything women are talking about this week. Post continues below.
The move of the Saudi Arabian government to grant Sophia citizenship has been met with understandable backlash.
The Washington Post published an article headlined: “Saudi Arabia, which denied women equal rights, makes a robot a citizen”.
And social media is buzzing with the injustice of it. Women are asking: ‘Oh, so now we need to become robots?’ Others are pointing out the hypocrisy of a country that grants robots better rights than women and children.
Sophia is first robot in the world to get Saudi Citizenship. So now a Saudi woman robot might have more Rights than all the Saudi Women.
— Anshul Saxena (@AskAnshul) October 27, 2017
Meet Saudi’s newest citizen, a humanoid robot named Sophia who has more rights than women and foreign workers pic.twitter.com/Xt1WnpIX1j
— TRT World (@trtworld) October 29, 2017
????????Saudi Arabia bestows citizenship to a robot named Sophia which has more rights than real women in the country???? https://t.co/bqCmhcGfuU
— Doug Sides (@DougSides) October 28, 2017
Sophia accepted her citizenship with grace, telling the Future Investment Initiative event she wants to “make the world a better place using artificial intelligence”.
She could start doing that right now. By renouncing the citizenship. By standing up for the rights of women in a country where they have none.
The rights of those women who have hearts, and thoughts, and feelings and blood running through their veins, and who’ve now just watched a robot woman, with lipstick and no hijab, thank their own countrymen for her historic citizenship.
Those women who would be arrested if they dressed, talked, worked, lived in any way that remotely resembles Sophia’s existence.
Those women who are humans, not robots.