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Title: Robot citizenship and gender (in)equality: the case of Sophia the robot in Saudi Arabia
Authors: Fernandes, Joana Vilela
Keywords: Activism
Human rights
Saudi Arabia
the humanoid robot
Issue Date: Feb-2022
Publisher: OBERVARE. Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
Abstract: On the 25 th of October 2017, Sophia, the humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics, was declared an official Saudi citizen during the Summit on Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Since Saudi Arabia is known for still holding onto strong religious as well as conservative values and for still classifying Saudi women as second-class citizens, it seems quite peculiar that the Kingdom would grant the official citizenship status to a female-looking non-human being. In other words, this specific decision has come to highlight the deeply rooted gender disparities in the Kingdom even more, especially as Saudi women face a constant battle for their recognition as official Saudi citizens and for the concession of their basic human rights. Although, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia has been trying to picture themselves as trying to make steps forward in what the Western world would consider the right direction regarding the evolution of Saudi women’s rights through, for instance, the publication of more progressive reform programs such as Vision 2030, the Kingdom is, on the other hand, simultaneously repressing Saudi women’s active resistance against the patriarchal Saudi traditions. So, while Sophia the robot was granted the official citizenship status effortlessly and very rapidly, Saudi women are actively protesting for their rights. This article is based on an explorative approach of the existent literature as it intends to study the Saudi government’s unique decision of granting Sophia the Saudi citizenship; and to prospect Saudi women activists’ current struggles against the government and the muttawas, the Islamic religious police, in their fight for equal rights compared to Sophia’s situation. Thus, the present article will briefly mention the reasons why Sophia was granted this status and demonstrate how the treatment of Saudi women activists does not comply with the progressive image Saudi Arabia is trying to portray.
Peer Reviewed: yes
ISSN: 1647-7251
Appears in Collections:OBSERVARE - JANUS.NET e-journal of International Relations. Vol.12, n.2 - Thematic dossier 2: The Middle East. Local dynamics, regional actors, global challenges

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