Wangari Maathai: The Green Belt Movement


Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and feminist, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, making her the first African woman to receive the Prize for her actions to promote sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became the Head of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an Associate Professor, becoming the first woman in the region to hold such positions.

During the period 1976–1987, Maathai was an active member of the National Council of Women in Kenya, and served as its Chairwoman 1981–1987. Driven by the ecological issues in Kenya, such as watersheds drying up, deforestation, and desert expansion south of the Sahara, Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop the idea to use trees to fight erosion, provide fuel wood, protect watersheds, promote better nutrition, in addition to providing jobs for women.

Under the auspices of the National Council of Women of Kenya, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977, which is an environmental non-governmental organization focusing on planting trees, environmental conservation, and women’ rights. Aiming at fighting the deforestation that was threatening the agricultural life, GBM’s mission is to reforest the country by encouraging women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees for a small amount of money in return. This movement spread to other countries in Africa, and helped in planting more than thirty million trees in Africa, and has helped nearly 900,000 women.

Until her death in 2011, Maathai served on the Eminent Advisory Board of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA). A number of foundations were established, tracing their roots to the Green Belt Movement to advance the legacy of Wangari Maathai. Maathai also had an eminent role in the political life, and played an active part in the struggle for democracy in Kenya. She was elected to earn a seat in the country’s parliament in 2002; later on, she was appointed Assistant Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife.

Professor Maathai was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. In June 2009, Maathai was named one of’s first peace heroes; in the same year, the United Nations named her UN Messenger of Peace. Today, Maathai continues to inspire women in Africa and all over the world.


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