Role of rural women in the sustainability of Iran agro-ecosystems

Document Type : Research Article


1 Department of Agrotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. Mashhad. Iran

2 Department of Gender and Women's Studies, University of California, Berkeley



Following population growth and increasing demand for food, agricultural systems have been considerably developed across the world. Nonetheless, the majority of development programmes have been accompanied with many consequences by reason of focusing on economic growth and ignoring the relation between humans and environmental wellbeing. Thus, it seems that any future increase in food production should be done in a sustainable way which considers various issues. Based on this viewpoint, understanding the importance of diverse women’s roles and addressing gender equality are indisputable preconditions for achieving sustainability in the agriculture sector. Women significantly affect the welfare and sustainability of farmer households through numerous tasks assigned to them by societies. However, women do not have the same rights as men in access to productive resources because of gender-based norms. Although the sustainability of agricultural systems has been evaluated by many researchers, they rarely used gender-based analyzes in their assessments. Hence, we aim to determine women’s participation in various agricultural systems and evaluate the impact of women’s activities on the sustainability of agro-ecosystems in Iran by using a comprehensive approach.

Materials and Methods:

To explore our research goals, a specific questionnaire was utilized which its validity and reliability was approved by experts and the Cronbach’s alpha test, respectively. We used the purposive sampling method to identify townships and villages and applied the simple random sampling technique to select farmer households. Based on different methods and the results of pre-test surveys, 930 farmer households were considered as the appropriate sample size in this study. Because there are different climatic conditions, agricultural products and subcultures in Iran, this study was carried out in all 31 provinces of Iran to cover differences between reagions.The sustainability of farmer households was assessed by applying 15 indicators. Then, scores attained by farmer households were simplified to define three principal thresholds for sustainability: unacceptable (scores≤1.5), limited (1.5<scores≤2.5), and good (2.5<scores). Women’s different activities in male-headed agricultural systems were ranked by the Friedman test. The correlation between women’s participation in male-headed farms and the sustainability of farmer households was determined based on the Tao B. Kendall correlation coefficient. Moreover, the effect of women’s participation in female-headed agricultural systems (home gardens) on the sustainability of farmer households was assessed by the independent samples t-test.

Results and Discussion:

Results disclosed that although the level of participation of about 1⁄4 of women in male-headed agricultural system ranged medium to high, women were remarkably pushed back from them, especially from crop and fruit production systems. However, the majority of women continued be highely involved in animal husbandry. Despite various climatic, economic, physical, and social constraints in the rural areas of Iran, about 44% of women could have home gardens. Our findings revealed that farmer households failed to achieve the good threshold of sustainability. Nonetheless, households whose women had home gardens gained higher scores of sustainability than other farmer households. Home gardens, compared with male-headed farms, put the minimum pressure on the environment because of their reliance on renewable energy inputs. In terms of economic and social dimensions, women producing different crops and fruits in home gardens meaningfully improved the sustainability of their households. Farmer households with home gardens were able to offer a wider variety of products for sale, make more profit, and even have better savings and liquidity. Home gardens also could increase women’s economic ability which subsequently improved the food security, health and education of children. Women positivly affected the sustainability of farmer households by participating in male-headed farms. Nonetheless, women’s participation in these systems was not as effective on the sustainability of farmer households as their participation in female-headed agricultural systems (home gardens), due to women’s limited involvement in the management of market-oriented agricultural systems.


Our findings indicated that women’s agricultural activities affected the sustainability of farmer households in a positive way. Therefore, we suggest that experts and policymakers address issues affecting the agriculture sector through a gender lens. Because, the marginalization of rural women from the agriculture sector means the transformation of rural women from economically active actors into consumers with a different lifestyle, which undoubtedly puts a lot of pressure on the economy, both locally and nationally. It will also led to enormous environmental and social consequences.



Articles in Press, Accepted Manuscript
Available Online from 25 October 2021
  • Receive Date: 20 April 2021
  • Revise Date: 18 October 2021
  • Accept Date: 25 October 2021
  • First Publish Date: 25 October 2021