Social capital has become an increasingly investigated variable in understanding citizen participation, or lack of it, in public life and politics. Whilst there are reservations about the explanatory power of the concept, there are also demonstrations that social capital is a factor that influences communities, lowers crime, and may increase political participation. Although demographic variables do not seem to influence the growth of social capital, at least one study indicates that there are some gender differences (Onyx & Bullen. 2000).
There are few studies of social capital in African countries, which is interesting given the strong and central role that women play in communities, and especially rural communities. One study has examined the relationship between social capital and political violence (Bhavnani & Backer. 2007), but the relationship between social capital and active citizenship more generally remains virgin territory. A recent Zimbabwean study, which included social capital as one variable in examining active citizenship, found differences between urban and rural residency in two measures of social capital, intimate and institutional trust (RAU. 2015). However, this study did not examine social capital in the broader sense, including belonging to community groups or attending community meetings, for example.
The present study examined social capital in women using the data from the last three rounds of the Afrobarometer surveys on Zimbabwe: Round 5 (2012), Round 6 (2014), and Round 7 (2017). A measure of social capital was constructed using six questions common to all three rounds, and tested this against seven measures of public interest and participation, as well as four demographic variables (age, residence, employment and education). The measures of public interest and participation were also constructed from questions common to all three rounds: access to information, freedoms, political participation, agency, support for democracy, and political trust. A seventh measure, lived poverty, was included to check for possible confounding on the residence variable: it cannot be assumed that poverty in Zimbabwe is wholly a feature of the rural areas in the current economic climate.
The data was analysed in SPSS (20) looking at correlations, factor analysis, and tests of means (t-test).
Social capital in women is associated with Freedoms, Political participation,; Agency, Support for Democracy, and Political trust. Social capital in women is associated with believing that have the basic freedoms of speech and association; actively participate in elections by voting or working for a party or candidate; will contact MPs, local councillors or government officials; are supporters of democracy; and trust most public officials, from the president to the courts.
Factor analysis produced four main factors, termed tentatively “Middle class”, “Active citizens”, “Politically engaged”, and “Employed”. The category of people described in the first factor, “Middle class”, seems very similar to a factor in a previous study, which was termed “disconnected democrats”. The second factor, Social capital, loads on “Active citizens”, together with Political Trust, Freedoms, and Support for Democracy. The third factor, “politically engaged”, suggests a group of citizens that are actively engaged in both electoral politics, political participation, as well as being involved in more continuous political activity through contacting duty bearers, Agency.
Testing a number of hypotheses to try to establish causal relationships revealed a significant relationship between persons with “high social capital” and all the measures of interest and participation, excepting access to information. When these relationships were further tested
4
using residence as the dependent variable, rural residence proved to be the variable underpinning the possession of “high social capital”.
The findings support the more general picture about social capital: the association between social capital and interest and participation is positive. The most interesting finding is that Social Capital, as we have defined it, is a property of the rural areas and rural women. This replicates other studies on active citizenship. It is good to bear in mind, however, that the components of Social Capital here may well reflect aspects of rural life that are not necessarily voluntary. Attending a community meeting, belonging to a community group, and not being careful what you say in public could also be associated with some of the compulsory aspects of rural life, and may also be associated with political party affiliation or participation in coerced political activity. It is worth noting that not all urban women will live in low Social Capital environments, neither will all rural women live in high Social Capital environments.
Overall, it seems safe to conclude that Social Capital leads to greater participation, but there must be reservations about the finding that this will be necessarily greater in rural rather than urban women.
It also seems the case that there are too easy assumptions about the possibilities for engaging urban women in the collective life of the country. On these findings, urban women seem to have less agency than their rural counterparts, and hence any attempt to foster their agency will need to understand more carefully their inhibitions and the barriers.

Publication Category: 

Leave a comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.