Social Capital

Video length: 47:43

Presenter: Judith Bruce, Senior Associate and Policy Analyst, Population Council

Presentation: Social capital

This lecture discusses the dimensions of social capital and their importance to girls. By social capital we mean more than just having friends. The dimensions include non-family peer networks, the existence of safety nets, internalized gender roles, and community power dynamics. The key theme is that effective girl programming begins and ends with social capital.


When we talk about social capital, we include a number of dimensions, such as:

  • Basic demographic characteristics (schooling, living arrangements, marriage, whether foreign or native born, etc.). Each of these categories has a particular form of social capital attached to it.
  • Non-family peer networks. Having non-family friends is vital since the family is the arena in which many girls are most exploited. Thus, non-family networks can be protective in a way that family networks cannot.
  • Safety nets in the community. Does the girl have someone to help her in an emergency? Someone to borrow money from? Does she feel safe moving around in her community?
  • Internalized gender roles. To what extent have girls internalized unjust gender roles?  For example, research across the globe shows that high percentages of girls and young women believe wife-beating is justified.
  • Degree of agency. The extent to which girls know their rights and have the power to claim them within their community.
  • Social participation and access to media. To what extent do girls have access to media?  Often media is not salient to the most vulnerable girls, who cannot act on media messages in part because they do not have sufficient social capital.
  • Participation in formal programs. Even the poorest communities have community assets and programs, some designed specifically for girls (e.g. women’s health services). However, girls often cannot access these assets and programs.
  • Community power dynamics. What is the best way to get resources to girls? What is the strategy for doing so, especially when most community committees with control over resources are comprised of older men?

Two other related aspects of social capital building are discussed:

  • “Safe-scaping” to create context-specific safety plans. The alternative is for girls to take the most conservative approach and further restrict their access to all aspects of social capital. They often do this because of the pervasive fear and risk of stigmatization.
  • Safety plans. An essential element once girls have built a base of social capital is to formulate a safety plan. Having someone to go to in an emergency and having control over some level of resources are part of this process.

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