By Sharanya Gopinathan
Exactly one month ago, Saudi Arabia lost the distinction of being the only country in the world that banned women from driving. Now, it has gained a different honour: it just became the first and only country in the world to officially recognise a robot as a citizen.
Al Arabiya reports that Sophia the robot received this honour while attending the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, and gave a polite speech commemorating the occasion (where she even laughed and creeped a lot of people online out).
Of course, ss gotten people pretty riled up, because while Saudi Arabia may have just become the first country to recognise a robot as a citizen (how useful!), it’s still a country famous for treating its women citizens as though they have far less worth as human beings than men. It still has the guardianship system in place, for example: although the rules have recently been relaxed to allow adult women to avail of some government services without permission from a male guardian, women still need a male guardian’s permission to obtain a passport or to leave the country.
Under the country’s legal system, a woman’s testimony in court still has “half” the value of a man’s: As this piece in the New Yorker points out, in Saudi Arabia, “a homicide case, for example, normally requires testimony from two male witnesses; if only one is available, two female witnesses may be substituted for the other.”. Women in the Kingdom must also cover their bodies and their hair when they go out, whether they want to or not.
Of course, the irony of a Kingdom that seems to see women as half-humans granting citizenship to a female robot isn’t lost on anyone. Twitter users were quick to point out the hypocrisy, like one user whose question was simply, “But where’s her guardian?”, while others wished she had been named Saffiyah instead.
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