When traditional avenues for learning and participation become inaccessible for less-advantaged people to learn and participate, people tend to develop other unconventional avenues to learn and participate in decisions that affect their lives. There are two distinct research approaches in the study of political participation. One approach, which had been historically predominant, focuses on individual characteristics such as education level, income and class, and the other, social network approach focuses on the influence of context and social networks in the political socialization and mobilization of men and women in democracies and authoritarian polities. This paper fits into the second approach and makes a contribution to it. The paper turns the focus of public participation away from classical, formal Tocquevillian understandings to the unconventional avenues of participation that have remained outside of the scope of some research. It examines how young women in authoritarian contexts utilize self-created social networks as unconventional avenues to learn and advance their political participation. It uniquely places the question of the pedagogical and political consequences of social capital into an analysis of women’s social interactions within social networks.

Utilizing constructivist qualitative research conducted in three rural villages in Egypt, this study penetrates disadvantaged women’s realities and capture their unique forms of political participation and sets the groundwork for future study to examine political participation beyond the conventional civic and political activities aimed at marginalized groups in developing democracies around the globe.