Responding to the spread of radicalisation in the Western Balkans and South Asia, Women without Borders (WwB) as part of its international ‘MotherSchools 2020’ project currently is implementing MotherSchools in Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bangladesh. Building on its successful roll-out across thirteen countries to date, the programme has been refined to reach additional countries that demand immediate attention. WwB’s growing Parenting for Peace movement builds resilience in homes and communities that are vulnerable to violent extremism and heightens global awareness of mothers as changemakers and agents of prevention.
In the Western Balkans, messages of religious militancy have resonated profoundly with vulnerable youth populations and gained considerable traction in isolated communities over the past decade. Areas with high concentrations of Albanian-speaking adolescents and young adults have been particularly susceptible to past recruitment efforts by ISIS. Violent extremist groups have taken advantage of voids in and pressures on identities that have been and continue to be shaped by struggles with the lingering legacies of violent conflict and a history of shifting geopolitical circumstance. Since recruiters have immersed themselves in and paid particular attention the region’s complex social-political makeup to effectively target and radicalise vulnerable youth, its countries boast some of Europe’s highest per capita rate of individuals who left to fight in Iraq and Syria. The recent wave of returnees threatens to introduce new toxic ideologies, exacerbate the issue in already affected areas, and bring violent extremism into other communities across the region.
Despite Montenegro’s comparatively low number of foreign fighters, governments and stakeholders are increasingly concerned about the potential rise of violent extremism and prospective spill-over effect from neighbouring countries. Advancing Montenegro’s prevention strategy has become a key focus in light of region-specific developments and heightened security concerns regarding ISIS-inspired acts of violent extremism. Through its ongoing ‘MotherSchools 2020’ project, supported by the US Department of State, Women without Border (WwB) has brought its global Parenting for Peace programme to Montenegro and is cooperating with its local implementing partner Forum MNE to convene three groups in Tuzi and Podgorica. This project also includes WwB MotherSchools roll-outs in Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Bangladesh.
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.