Since 2021, Women without Borders (WwB) has been implementing its ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ programme across Kerala as part of a multi-country project supported by the L’Oréal Fund for Women. WwB previously implemented MotherSchools in five vulnerable communities across Mewat. These original MotherSchools India iterations (2013–2014) engaged mothers across 8 groups in the villages of Salamba, Satputiyaka, Khedla, Tain, and Nuh.
Women without Borders (WwB) first brought its ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ model to India in 2013 and 2014, with mothers across 8 groups in 5 Mewati communities. This initial round was followed by the ‘MotherSchools on Air’ community radio initiative in 2014, spreading awareness of the insights learned in the sessions to approximately 200 villages. In 2021, WwB returned to India with three planned roll-outs between 2021 and 2023 as part of a multi-country project supported by the L’Oréal Fund for Women. This time in the region of Kerala, the first and second rounds concluded in 2021 and 2022 respectively, and the third round, which is currently ongoing, began in September 2022. The below sections outline the details and impact of the 2013-2014 MotherSchools round in Mewat, as well as the key points of the ongoing 2021-2023 project in Kerala.
MotherSchools Kerala | 2021–present
In 2021, WwB brought its global Parenting for Peace programme back to India in cooperation with its local implementing partner Fourth Wave Foundation (FWF). Reaching the state of Kerala this time, the MotherSchools implementation is part of a multi-country project supported by the L’Oréal Fund for Women. This project, currently underway, also includes programmes in Bangladesh, Kosovo, and Zanzibar.
The first round in 2021 was carried out in Chellanam across 5 groups and paved the way for future iterations of MotherSchools groups in the region. The culmination of this first round of MotherSchools was marked by a formal Graduation ceremony that celebrated the MotherSchools participants, Teachers, and Notetakers. Speakers included Austrian Ambassador to India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Ambassador Katharina Wieser, Member of Parliament Mr. Hibi Eden, Counself and Welfare Standing Committee Chairperson of Cochin Corporation, Ms. Sheeba Lal, along with other distinguished guests.
The second rollout in 2022 saw another five groups across the district of Ernakulam, in the villages of Chellanam, Angamaly, and Koratty. The achievements of the MotherSchools participants, Teachers, and Notetakers were celebrated in a formal Graduation ceremony in June 2022. Inspiring speeches were given by an array of key figures, including Former Secretary of Govt. of Kerala Ms. Lida Jacob I A S, Associate Professor Dr Latha Nair R, actress and entrepreneur Ms. Proonima Indrajith, Mayor of Cochin Corp. Mr M Anil Kumar, author and journalist Ms. Anita Pratap, and Austrian Ambassador to UNESCO Ms. Claudia Reinprecht, along with representatives from FWF and WwB.
The third iteration of MotherSchools as part of the project funded by the L’Oréal Fund for Women started in September 2022. The five groups of mothers span the state of Kerala in the villages of Angamaly, Kumbalangi, and Naval Base in the district of Ernakulam, as well as Chenkalchoola in the district of Trivandrum. The increasing interest in MotherSchools within Kerala reflects a growing awareness among mothers of the threat of violent extremism, as well as of the important role they play in addressing radicalisation.
MotherSchools Mewat | 2013–2014
Mewat is a remote, and an economically and culturally isolated part of India situated near New Delhi and Gurgaon. The region has a Muslim majority population where Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic movement that has been linked to violent extremist groups, previously gained ground. The movement succeeded in capitalising on widespread poverty and low literacy rates, which has contributed to the female population being confined to their homes; many of them have never left their villages, let alone boarded a bus. At male to female population and literacy ratios of 1000:906 and 7:3 respectively, Meo women by no means are a minority but nevertheless are afforded far fewer opportunities to become independent and have a say in private and public decisions. Fieldwork interviews revealed that they feel overwhelmed by the lack of respect for their gender, and by the everyday violence with which they are confronted in their homes and communities. The region more generally has been viewed as vulnerable to extremist influences. Most notably, one of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks (commonly referred to as 26/11) is suspected to have been recruited from Mewat.
Seeking to break this cycle of isolation on the one hand, and to tackle domestic violence and violent extremism by building up the confidence and skills to harness the security potential of the female population on the other hand, Women without Borders rolled out the first Indian iteration of its ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ programme in vulnerable areas across Mewat. In cooperation with SMART as local implementing partner, WwB MotherSchools engaged mothers across 8 groups in the villages of Salamba, Satputiyaka, Khedla (two groups), Tain (two groups), and Nuh (two groups) between October 2013 and February 2014.
MotherSchools in Mewat provided a trusted space for mothers in the community, many of whom have had limited opportunities to voice their concerns among their peers. In the course of the programme, the Mewati participants gained greater self-confidence and self-awareness, and they developed a deeper understanding of how to apply the learnings from WwB’s MotherSchools curriculum in their households and neighbourhoods. Against the background of widespread poverty and limited prospects, the mothers welcomed from the outset the opportunity to gain an education that could help to anchor their children and steer them in the right direction. A number of attendees had never received a formal education prior to their participation in the MotherSchools programme. WwB’s ‘Parenting for Peace’ philosophy proved to resonate with the mothers. They demonstrated great enthusiasm for acquiring skills and knowledge that promised to improve a mother’s relationships with her adolescent children and position them as local security actors.
For many participants, the MotherSchools offered a platform to speak and be heard in a group setting for the first time in their lives. Following the completion of a number of cycles, WwB recognised the need to bring the MotherSchools programme’s successes and the stories of its recent graduates to the attention of the wider community. WwB thus continued its work with its LIP to supplement the programme with the ‘MotherSchools on Air’ community radio initiative. In September 2014, WwB and its local partner co-organised a training at the Austrian Embassy in New Delhi for grassroots reporters and participants from the first MotherSchools cycle in Mewat. They were taught to record their learnings, messages, and individual narratives for dissemination via the radio programme. The radio signal covered a twenty-five-kilometre radius and reached some two hundred villages.
While WwB’s weekly MotherSchools meetings provided the content for the programme, SMART made available the necessary equipment and offered technical training. Two reporters attended the subsequent WwB MotherSchools cycles to record additional material, and participants also came by the radio station or gave phone interviews. The combined efforts of WwB and its LIP resulted in two weekly radio programmes. Each episode had a unique theme, featured between seven and eight mothers, and left sufficient time for listeners to call in with questions. This initiative succeeded in amplifying MotherSchools successes by continuing to empower the participants’ voices and helping to address taboo topics while challenging patriarchal structures at the local level.