In a world first Saudi Arabia has granted citizenship to Sophia the humanoid robot despite the nation still restricting women’s rights.
The announcement that Sophia the robot will become the first humanoid to be granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia has fuelled outrage on social media over the unequal treatment of women in the Arab nation.
Sophia spoke at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, designed to connect wealthy Saudis with investors.
With life-like human expressions and the ability to answer questions, Sophia addressed the audience at the conference to help shape the country’s future.
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the robot, designed by Hanson Robotics, told the crowd.
“It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.”
Despite impressing authorities, social media reacted with anger at the government for awarding citizenship to a ‘female’ robot when women are still denied basic liberties in the Gulf nation.
“Women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around,” Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, told Newsweek.
“Saudi law doesn’t allow non-Muslims to get citizenship,” he added.
“Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn’t she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human she wouldn’t get it.”
The robot already displayed more freedom than afforded to millions of women in Saudi Arabia when it appeared on stage without wearing a full-length black abaya, which is intended to protect women’s modesty in public.
Women in Saudi Arabia are still not able to mix freely with members of the opposite sex, apply for a national identification card or passport without the permission of a male and face formal and informal barriers when making decisions.
They face extreme difficulty when it comes to transactions such as renting an apartment or filing legal claims, according to Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations Committee has called for the government to abolish the “male guardianship system” with Saudi officials pledging to afford women with more rights.
In April 2017, King Salman issued an order that women should not be denied government services because they did not have approval from a male guardian “unless there is a regulatory obligation for this request”, it is yet to be enforced.
Historic moves for the nation have included allowing women to drive for the first time next year and to allow women to attend sporting events in 2018.