Iran’s judiciary has announced that the rate of blood money levies for a human being for the year 2021-2022 should be 480 million tomans ($19,200). The judiciary’s statement added an apparently new clause: that the blood money of a fetus four months or older should be equal to the the full 480 million tomans rate, if the fetus is male, and "half of the full blood money of a Muslim man", i.e. 240 million tomans, if it is female. And if the sex of the fetus is unknown, the amount of blood money is three-fourths of the blood money of the man; that is, a woman's blood money is less than the blood money of an unknown fetus.
The announcement provoked a range of reactions regarding the different fetus blood money rates. Two experts, Sedigheh Vasmaghi, a writer and Islamologist, and Samaneh Savadi, a gender equality activist and lawyer, spoke to IranWire about the news.
Systematic and widespread gender discrimination in Iran due to Sharia law, and the complicity of an institutionalized patriarchal system and culture, finds one form of expression in the fact that men are worth twice as much “blood money” as women. The deeper crisis is the denial of the right of women over their own bodies and lives, including in accessing contraceptives, the prohibition of abortion, the unequal share women receive of inheritances and the pressure on women to have children regardless of economic, social, and psychological conditions. All of these make it difficult for women to achieve equality in Iranian society.
The Jurisprudential Roots of Blood Money
According to Article 17 of the Islamic Penal Code, blood money is a form of compensation – a form of both punitive and restorative justice. Article 448 of the Islamic Penal Code provides a definition of blood money; it is a punishment to compensate for physical harm inflicted on individuals, up to murder, and a way to satisfy the injured person or their family, to attempt to restore the situation to the status quo before the apparent crime, and to punish perpetrators on behalf of victims.
The idea of extracting lower levels of “blood money” for female fetuses is not new in Iranian Islamic jurisprudence though it has attracted fresh attention in recent days. Sedigheh Vasmaghi, an Islamologist, told IranWire: "I am not sure if such a rule has been applied so far in the courts or not, but this is not a new issue in jurisprudence. Given that the Islamic Penal Code defines a woman's blood money as half a man's blood money, so in the case of a fetus of a certain gender, there is an opinion among traditional jurists that the blood money of a female fetus should be half the blood money of a male fetus."
Less than a Man, More than a Woman
Regarding the stipulation that the blood money for a fetus whose gender is unknown is three-fourths of the blood money of a male fetus, or 360 million tomans, Swedigheh Vasmaghi said: "There is a debate in jurisprudence regarding the share of inheritance, which says that if a woman is pregnant and her husband dies and it is not clear whether the fetus is a girl or a boy, the woman will receive the larger share of the inheritance or male inheritance. But if the child is born a girl, she will be given a female inheritance [i.e. half not three-quarters] and the difference will be divided among the heirs. From this it can be seen that the discrimination that exists against a woman also applies to a female fetus. As for the blood money, it should be borne in mind that the old world was different from today. It was not possible to determine the gender of the fetus in the past, so the blood money of the fetus of an unknown sex was determined to be less than the man and more than the woman."
Shia Islamic jurists have always said to critics who questioned why women's blood money is half that of men that, given that under Islamic law responsibilities such as alimony and dowry are borne by men, a man's blood money should be twice that of a woman’s share. These jurists believe the loss of a man in a family will cause more disruption to those left behind than the loss of a woman.
Critics of this view believe that in modern Iranian society, with efforts to reach gender equality, almost none of the conditions that caused a woman's blood money to be half a man's remain relevant. Why is the Iranian judiciary resisting changing to the law?
"The reality is that the laws mentioned in Islamic jurisprudence regarding blood money and some other cases are not religious rulings at all,” Sedigheh Vasmaghi said. “This is a historical mistake. These are in fact traditions that were prevalent before Islam, and then those who became Muslims accepted the same laws that were customs of the society at that time. No one had religiously endorsed these laws. But the jurists did so in the following centuries."
Vasmaghi added that the study of discrimination in blood money, like many other cases, is rooted in a historical discrimination between men and women. She added that: "I also believe the issue of blood money is not a divine, religious and holy ruling, and that it can be changed. Even if it was a Sharia ruling and it was mentioned in the Quran, like the rules related to inheritance, I still believe that it should be changed with the changes of circumstances, because the law is basically a function of the existing conditions and requirements of the time. In my book, Re-reading the Sharia, I have mentioned several changes implemented by the Prophet of Islam or the laws that were mentioned in the Quran, but later, with the change of circumstances, other ways were found to satisfy these laws."
Vasmaghi attributed the reason for the judiciary's resistance to changes in the law to their “prejudice” in changing laws in favor of women. "It is often thought that any change in the law in favor of women will lead to great social changes; because some of the laws jurists believed to be sacred and divine, and which are also mentioned in the Quran, have changed according to the changing requirements of the time, such as the laws on treasures or mines, that have been changed according to necessity. There is a lot of resistance to laws related to women in Iran [because] equality in Iran has a great deal of support."
Vasmaghi also described "equality" as the "foundation of democracy" and said: "Equality and democracy are contrary to the basics of the Islamic Republic. So if the Islamic Republic takes this first step towards equality between men and women, its foundations, which are based on discriminatory jurisprudence and a jurisprudence that justifies discrimination, will be shaken to their roots."
What Do Women's Rights Activists Say?
Samaneh Savadi, a gender equality activist and lawyer, told IranWire that the reactions to the different blood money rates for male and female fetuses may be “due to the fact that in the judiciary’s statement, the matter is announced openly and separately; otherwise the blood money rate is calculated and announced in the same way every year."
Savadi said however that: ”Since 2018, some media outlets in Iran have falsely stated that the blood money for men and women has become equal, while such a propaganda is incorrect. What happened in 2018 was not the equalization of men's and women's blood money, but rather the payment of the difference between men's and women's blood money through a government fund."
Savadi added that many women's rights activists had worked hard to make this clear. But as is often the case, she said, those who see their interests and survival in promoting and perpetuating anti-feminist and patriarchal laws accused the activists of presenting a negative image of Iranian society.
"Now, after all the propaganda of the Islamic Republic, the blood money of a girl has been announced as half of the blood money of a boy, and this is proof of what activists said; that if the equality of blood money was approved and turned into law, why should a different amount be announced for a boy's blood money now?” Savadi said.
Regarding the increase in women's suffering as a result of this incident, Samaneh Savadi said: "In all the laws ratified about pregnancy and female fertility, women's bodies have been completely exploited. On the other hand, contraceptives are not available to many women, and screening or abortion treatment is in decline. Now by putting blood money on the fetus, they want to punish a woman who wants to destroy an unwanted fetus in any way possible. In fact, the ruling system seeks to increase the population at any cost. The legislature does not care at all whether families who are encouraged to have children in various ways and are prevented from having an abortion, have the ability and conditions to have an extra child or not. Or will policymakers have the ability to nurture a wise generation? It's as if the focus is only on numbers, and to increase the population at any cost."
The prohibition on abortion endangers the health of many women, and now inequality in the payment of fetus blood money will undoubtedly make women face more serious obstacles and problems. According to Samaneh Savadi, a system that consciously intends to increase the population must provide benefits for women in other areas: "In this situation, the system invests in the type of education the new generation is supposed to receive and provides welfare assistance to economically disadvantaged families who could not afford to have children. But the ruling system is proceeding in the most irrational way possible to increase the population, without any intention to remove the basic and key barriers for women."