Mothers around the world are banding together as agents of change dedicated to combatting violent extremism. Mother Schools, a pioneering European project by Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), empowers women to take action against the radicalization of their youth and includes them in international peacemaking and the prevention of violent conflict. SAVE was borne out of Women Without Borders, a research-based NGO founded by Austrian activist Edit Schlaffer.
“The first school that any human being comes into contact with is the home, and the first teacher is the mother. So we are going to use this as a strategy,” said Khadijah Hawaja Gambo, one of the mobilizers spearheading the campaign in Nigeria, in a film by SAVE.
The Mothers School model was developed as a result of SAVE workshops in Tajikistan three years ago where it was first launched. The world’s first female anti-terror platform found that women were increasingly concerned about the safety of their children and how vulnerable they were to the spread of violent extremism. Mothers Schools were thus established to equip mothers with the skills and knowledge needed to recognize and respond to early warnings of radicalization within their families and communities. The schools received positive feedback in Tajikistan, where communities feared the rise of Taliban ideology with the departure of American forces in 2014. Mothers Schools have since been implemented in high-risk communities across India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Zanzibar, and Indonesia.
Esther Ibanga, President of the African NGO Women Without Walls Initiative, said, “A lot of women do not even know they have that power, do not even realize that they have that much influence to shape and form their children. So I think that the Mothers Schools is teaching the women, ‘Hey, you have some power. Use it.'”
Mothers Schools are currently being implemented in Europe as Syria continues to welcome an alarming number of foreign fighters from the region. Young women are included in those flocking to ISIS territory as recruiters connect with them on social media and lure them into becoming wives and defenders of the self-proclaimed state.
In a New York Times article, Schlaffer said of the troubling phenomenon, “All of a sudden, [women] have such a huge role to play in a new society—they think. We must not forget that young women are also political minds and might respond to the same push-and-pull factors as their male counterparts.”
SAVE aims to expand the Mothers Schools model into a global movement that allows women everywhere to play an active role in countering violent extremism on the home front, making them international allies in peace and security.