Participatory action research (PAR) is a robust and versatile research and development strategy. It can be utilised to: understand complex community structures and interaction; determine various types of vulnerability; assist in community capacity building and skills transfer; ensure community participation,and allow for the strengthening of livelihoods. This article focuses on PAR as a strategy, applying various methods and specific participatory tools to understand social vulnerability, within the context of women as rural farm dwellers in the North-West Province, South Africa. It emphasises the need for continued participation and highlights the practical principles and benefits derived from PAR. The PAR process cycles are discussed and parallels are drawn with the practical setting. In conclusion, the article emphasises that the application of the PAR process can make a multi-dimensional contribution towards the development of a community by creating an understanding of social vulnerability, by building capacity and by ensuring participation, and also addresses income-generating activities.