Because the 9th of August was Women’s Day, August is Women’s Month, and Sunday, the 26th of August is Women’s Equality Day, OurHood has decided that every Tuesday we will discuss one woman in history whose brave actions paved the way for women today.

Last Tuesday we honoured: Navanethem “Navi” Pillay.
The Tuesday before that we honoured: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
And on the first Tuesday of this month, we honoured: Dr Frene Ginwala.

Today, the last Tuesday of Women’s Month, we honour:

Wangarĩ Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya in 1940, Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement.
She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966).

She later pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a PhD (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

Professor Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, and then became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy (1976) and an associate professor (1977). In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

During this time, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting, and constantly developed her tree planting initiative into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), centred on women groups; conserving the environment and improving women’s quality of life. Another main focus is reducing poverty and environmental conservation through tree planting.

In 1983, Professor Maathai received the Women of the Year Award. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1984 and the Better World Society Award in 1986.

The Green Belt Movement launched a Pan African Green Belt Network in 1986, which introduced over 40 individuals of various African states to the Movement’s ideals. Professor Maathai established a campaign of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition in late 1998, which she played a significant role in co-chairing its Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign.

The Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign discourages land grabbing and acquisitive allocation of forest land. In 2001, Professor Maathai received the Juliet Hollister Award and the Excellence Award from the Kenyan Community Abroad. Professor Maathai received the Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award in the year 2002.

Professor Maathai was internationally acknowledged for her continuous fight for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organisations. She addressed the UN on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the 5-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.

Professor Maathai represented the Tetu constituency in Kenya’s parliament, and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s 9th parliament. In 2005, she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem, an initiative by the British and the Norwegian governments to help protect the Congo forests.

In recognition of her deep commitment to the environment, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General named Professor Maathai a UN Messenger of Peace, with a focus on the environment and climate change.

In 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, established to safeguard the public land for whose protection she had fought for almost twenty years.

That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI). The WMI will bring together academic research, with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organisation.

Professor Maathai passed away on the 25th of September 2011, at the age of 71, after a battle with ovarian cancer. Memorial ceremonies were held in Kenya and all over the world.