Responding to the spread of radicalisation in South Asia, Women without Borders (WwB) currently is implementing its ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ Model in six communities across Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka. Building on successful roll-outs in thirteen countries to date, the programme has been refined to reach additional vulnerable communities around the world. WwB’s growing Parenting for Peace movement builds resilience in homes and regions that are vulnerable to violent extremism and heightens global awareness of mothers as changemakers and agents of prevention.
Although Bangladesh has tended to be less impacted by violent extremism than other countries in the region, Dhaka’s 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery terrorist attack, the deadliest in the city’s history, alerted the country to a troubling rise in radicalisation. The Bangladeshi government and law enforcement have since introduced various counter-terrorism and P/CVE programmes, but the threat has endured, with youth recruitment constituting a particular concern. Having lost its territory in the Middle East, ISIS fundamentalists increasingly have shifted their focus to new regions, including South Asia. In Dhaka, extremist groups like JMB and ABT have forged partnerships or even merged with international terrorist networks such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These developments pose a serious security threat to the capital, which, as one of the most densely populated cities in the world, offers recruiters an ideal breeding ground for radicalisation. Furthermore, Dhaka’s exponential growth brings about deep-seated economic, infrastructural, and political issues. Resulting grievances have created social and security vacuums in communities within Dhaka, paving the way for extremists to prey on vulnerable individuals.
Against this background of heightened concerns over radicalisation across Dhaka, Women without Borders (WwB) in 2018 brought its global Parenting for Peace programme to Dhaka in cooperating with its local implementing partner Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF). Together with MJF, WwB is now convening three groups in Dhaka South through the support of USAID and three groups in Dhaka North as part of WwB’s ongoing ‘MotherSchools 2020’ project, which is supported by the US Department of State and also includes WwB MotherSchools roll-outs in Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo.
Women without Borders has been implementing contextualised iterations of its pioneering ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ Model since 2013. True to WwB’s maxim that ‘peace starts at home’, MotherSchools programmes identify, unlock, and activate the potential of mothers preventing violent extremism (MPVE). This grassroots intervention strategy upgrades existing social services and provides local stakeholders with the essential structures, tools, and skills to address and counter the spread of extremist ideologies. Each implementation cycle sees concerned and affected mothers of adolescent and young adult children convene in an effort to advance their individual capacity, capabilities, and emotional literacy, and to thus safeguard their children and strengthen community resilience. By harnessing ‘Parenting for Peace’, the programme empowers and positions mothers as the first line of defence in vulnerable households and neighbourhoods around the world.
MotherSchools are rolled out through a five-phase approach over the course of a year. Together with a local implementing partner, members of WwB’s core team identify individuals from professional pools within the community to become MotherSchools Teachers for implementation and Notetakers for monitoring. After WwB’s standardised vetting process and multi-day training workshop, successful candidates assume their positions and deliver the WwB MotherSchools Curriculum by teaching their respective groups of mothers (Participants). MotherSchools are monitored, evaluated, and analysed by WwB through a rigorous process to document changing dynamics over time and ensure the programme’s effectiveness. At the MotherSchools Graduation Ceremony, graduates are awarded certificates following an interactive presentation on the programme’s successes, key findings, and its best practice qualities. The ceremony engages and connects MotherSchools Actors (Teachers, Notetakers, LIP) and Participants, their family members, community stakeholders, and local government officials. Participants in particular are provided with an opportunity and suitable platform to take a stance on extremism and voice their concerns.
Advancing grassroots leadership and strengthening community resilience are at the core of the MotherSchools Model’s governing philosophy: WwB not only equips women with the tools and confidence to translate learnings into action; it also builds up local ownership and institutional capacity by providing essential training, guidance, and mentorship throughout. The Curriculum employs developmental psychology, self-confidence training, and theoretical sessions to define radicalisation and prevention at the individual, family, and community levels. Sessions include exercises that facilitate dialogue, information exchanges, and critical reflection using context-based techniques that apply to the mothers’ daily lives. Participants undergo a process of gradual awareness and leadership building in three successive stages: starting with the self, moving on to the family and community, and finally arriving at the individual’s role in security. Buy-in from the family and community is developed over time, across various phases, and becomes most evident during the Graduation Ceremony, where it is common practice for MotherSchools Participants to speak in front of their families and stakeholders from all levels of society about the taboo issue of extremism, often doing so in public for the first time.