To explore the untapped potential of Mothers Preventing Violent Extremism (MPVE), Women without Borders (WwB) conducted a factfinding mission and subsequent ‘Teamshaping’ workshop in Tajikistan between 2011 and 2012. This WwB ‘Mothers for Change’ and Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) network project gave rise to the ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ Model that has since 2013 been implemented widely and developed into a global movement.

Tajikistan has witnessed a steadily increasing rise in violent extremism since the late 90s; a problem that has been exacerbated by its proximity to countries that are also affected by radicalisation. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan underwent a period of turmoil during which communists fought an alliance between the Islamic and democratic forces. In the mid-90s, over half a million people from Tajikistan were either killed or displaced; most fled to Afghanistan. While a UN-led peace agreement in 1997 led to the official end of the civil war, deep-seated tensions have endured and radicalisation in Tajikistan has continued unabated.

To learn more about radicalisation and the potential role that women in Tajikistan could play in its growing network of Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), Women without Borders (WwB) embarked on a factfinding mission between in late 2011. The exploratory country visit was facilitated by the Action against Terrorism Unit (ATU) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretariat in Vienna and the OSCE’s field office in Dushanbe.

WwB met with government stakeholders, including representatives from the State Committee on Youth, Sport, and Tourism; the State Committee on Women and Family Affairs; and the State Committee on Religious Affairs. The WwB team on the ground also met with a civil society organisation focusing on women, youth, and issues relating to extremism. By consulting with NGOs from Dushanbe, the volatile Fergana Valley in the north of the country, and the Afghan border region, WwB was able to gather expert insight into localised contexts of radicalisation and women’s potential in countering and preventing violent extremism (P/CVE).

In early 2012, WwB returned to Tajikistan to identify female community leaders and bring them together through a ‘Teamshaping’ workshop in partnership with the Association of Scientific and Technical Intelligentsia (ASTI). Teamshaping, a concept developed by Professor Ulrich Kropiunigg from the Medical University of Vienna, provides groups with relevant communicative structures to identify and realise a collectively-determined goal. Twenty-two community leaders, social workers, and teachers attended this five-day ‘Mothers for Change’ workshop in Khujand to learn from each other’s community-based work experience, and to discuss their plans for preventing the spread of violent extremism.

Observing the spirit of the ‘Teamshaping’ workshop, one of ASTI’s programme officers noted, ‘One drop alone cannot change anything. But when you become a stream, you can change the river. This is why I believe the power of women is when they unite’. Towards the end of the workshop, the ‘Mothers for Change’ project participants reached a joint conclusion: ‘What mothers need is to go back to school’. The women expressed a desire to acquire the necessary skills to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism in their communities. This realisation led to the birth of the ‘MotherSchools: Parenting for Peace’ philosophy.

Women without Borders returned to Tajikistan later that year to implement the first ever iteration of its MotherSchools programme. While the ‘MotherSchools’ Model has since been widely implemented and has developed into a global movement, its inception is owed to discussions the strong ‘Mothers for Change’ workshop participants. To quote an apt workshop observer, ‘We have a saying about mothers in Tajikistan: with one hand they shake the cradle, and with the second hand they shake the world’.