Woman of the Day – Wangarĩ Maathai 

Green Party Women Celebrating Women’s History Month
Day 26: Woman of the Day - Wangarĩ Maathai

Africa Environment Day and Wangarĩ Maathai Day are celebrated each year in March, in recognition of the work and life of the late Professor Wangarĩ Maathai who dedicated her life to promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development in Africa. To celebrate we are urged to Plant a Tree wherever we are in the world.

Wangarĩ was the founder of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement and in 2004 became the first Black African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

She was born on 1 April 1940, in the village of Ihithe, in Nyeri District in the central highlands of Kenya. She began her schooling at aged eight, and by 16 was rated first in her class and was granted admission to Loreto High School, the only Catholic high school for girls in Kenya. In 1960, Wangarĩ was one of only 300 Kenyan students chosen to study in the USA, obtaining a BSc and an MSc in Biological Sciences.

Photograph of  Wangarĩ Maathai

While serving in the National Council of Women, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement, whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. Rural Kenyan women were reporting that their streams were drying up, their food supply was suffering, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. Wangarĩ encouraged the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and receive money for their work. Not only did the project help to save the environment from degradation but it empowered Kenyan women to improve their own lives. To date over 51 million trees have been planted.

As she worked with the women, Professor Maathai saw that behind their everyday hardships, were deeper issues of disempowerment and a loss of the traditional values that had previously enabled communities to protect their environment. So she began to advocate for greater democracy and accountability from national leaders, fighting against land grabbing and the encroachment of agriculture into the forests.

During her life Wangarĩ was uncompromising in challenging corruption in government and degradation of the land, for which she faced numerous arrests. In January 2002 she won a seat in parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote under the umbrella of the opposition National Rainbow Coalition, and the following year she was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources, following which she founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya to allow candidates to run on a platform of conservation.

The accolades and awards Wangarĩ received in her lifetime number over fifty. She was an inspirational leader, as exemplified by the power and joy that can be seen radiating from her in photos.

Wangarĩ died of ovarian cancer aged 71 on 25 September 2011. In 2015 the Wangarĩ Maathai Foundation was established to support projects that further her values and vision, and so her legacy lives on. 

“Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize my next steps. I often just kept walking along, through whichever doors open… Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see danger… Giving up would have given pleasure to the enemy. So I never gave up.”

Image credit

Author: Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com.File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


https://coo.uonbi.ac.ke/event/Wangarĩ -maathai-day-and-african-environment-day-2023

https://www.greenbeltmovement.org/Wangarĩ -maathai/biography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangarĩ _Maathai

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