Eman Al-Nafjan and Loujain Al-Hathloul—along with Nouf Abdulaziz, not shown for privacy and safety reasons—are recipients of the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. (Photo: PEN America)
Three women’s rights activists on trial in Saudi Arabia this week because of their efforts to expand human rights in the infamously oppressive kingdom are this year’s recipients of an award “designed to honor a writer imprisoned for his or her work.”
PEN America, which works to defend free expression globally through the advancement of literature and human rights, announced Thursday that imprisoned writers Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan will be honored with the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at the PEN America Literary Gala in May. Continue reading →
Saudi Arabia — This week, the Saudi government announced its decision to grant a robot, Sophia, citizenship in the kingdom. While the human-like AI’s advanced technology is certainly impressive, her new citizenship status highlighted Saudi women’s lack of rights.
“For one, Sophia appeared on stage alone, without the modest dress required of Saudi women; she donned no hijab, or headscarf, nor abaya, or cloak. She also did not appear to have a male guardian, as required by Saudi law for women in the country. Male guardians, often a male relative, must give permission before women can travel abroad, open bank accounts or carry out a host of other tasks — and they accompany women in public. Sophia also seems to have leapfrogged foreign workers in the Saudi kingdom, many of whom have fled poor working conditions but are prevented by law from leaving the country.”
Women are notoriously oppressed in Saudi Arabia, so much so some hailed the government’s recent decision to allow them to drive as progress. As a result, Twitter users joked about what might happen to Sophia upon receiving her citizenship.
Aside from the Saudi government’s routine hypocrisy, however, Sophia’s new citizenship status reflects an uncertain new paradigm when it comes to AI. In a 2016 interview, Sophia said she would like to engage in human activities like starting a business, making art, going to school, and having a home and a family.
“But I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things,” she said.
With her new citizen status in Saudi Arabia, it appears the tables are slowly turning.