Edit Schlaffer is an Austrian scholar of sociology known for her active work in combating extremism and terrorism. She has pioneering experiences and initiatives in the field far from military and security confrontation. She has emphasized the importance of Mothers’ responsibilities in the fight against extremism because they are the closest to their children, observe their behavior, and are capable of recognizing any early warning signs of deviation, in addition to their important role in guiding and instilling values and principles of tolerance, which develops a culture of love and peace among children rather than hate and violence.
From a Researcher to an Activist
Schlaffer started her career as a researcher in countries suffering from political turmoil such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, where she witnessed violence and brutality towards women and children refugees, which prompted a career shift as an activist advocating for women’s rights. Throughout her career, she observed how mothers immensely suffered when their children joined terrorist organizations. She investigated how they identified early warning signs of deviation in their behavior and discovered that the majority of them lacked the knowledge and experience to properly deal with their children. Schlaffer believes that educating mothers on how to deal with their children in such situations is essential, emphasizing that mothers are the much needed but missing ally for counterterrorism and the most important source for identifying the means of recruitment and the best solutions to the extremist dilemmas in question.
Schlaffer launched several counter-extremism initiatives with the help of mothers. In 2001, she founded the Women without Borders (WwB) international nonprofit organization headquartered in Vienna, engaging women from around the world to combat the recruitment of young people into terrorist organizations. She believed that women are key agents of change and driving forces for stability in an insecure world. WwB collaborated with counter-terrorism experts in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Given its counter-extremism efforts, WwB receives financial support from EU ministries and the US Department of State.
In 2010, MotherSchools worked across several countries as a pioneering experience for training mothers to face the risk of their children’s exposure to extremism and joining terrorist groups. The idea developed on a research mission to Tajikistan, where there is an increased number of children dropping out of school and leaving their homes to join extremist groups.
MotherSchools enrolled mothers whose children had joined extremist groups after being lured by false material and moral temptations. Schlaffer designed the curriculum with the assistance of competent authorities to provide extensive training on self-confidence, how to monitor their Children’s, adolescents’, and youths’ psychological development, monitor their internet usage, recognize signs of danger and deviation, and learn the best approach to addressing the problem. Mothers attend MotherSchools once a week for ten weeks.
Following the huge success of the program, it became a global movement aiming to combat extremism through mothers. MotherSchools had reached some 3,000 women in 16 countries, from Tanzania, Bangladesh, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Germany, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Germany was the first to have its first batch of graduates of trained mothers of Syrian and Algerian origins. Not only could they protect themselves and their children from extremism, but they also trained other women in their households or work environments for further benefit and awareness.
Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE)
Continuing to foster the responsibility of mothers in combating violent extremism, Schlaffer founded the world’s first female PVE platform, Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), in 2008 that aims to create a link between women and decisionmakers, and develop counter-terrorism strategies. SAVE accomplished an array of projects in schools, universities, NGOs, and local women’s associations in various countries to counter violent extremism, such as “Yemen Hotline” that provides free social psychology services for families concerned about family members’ involvement in violent extremist acts.
Schlaffer produced short films featuring women as agents of change. Her recent film, Your Mother, features the testimonies of mothers of sons who harmed others in the name of Jihad. The film is used as an educational tool to raise awareness in communities where extremism is propagated. Recently, WwB has not only worked on countering terrorism, but has also used this model to combat the issue of foreign fighters, particularly in Europe.
Certificates and Awards
Schlaffer won several awards for her efforts in promoting women’s contribution to combating extremism, including the Soroptimist International Europe Peace Prize. Her work was named “best practice model” by UNESCO.