Wangari Maathai: went back to her home Kenya to eradicate poverty, won the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to plant trees

About Wangari Maathai

Summary Biography of Professor Wangari Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya (Africa) in 1940. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964). She subsequently earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966). Professor Maathai pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

Professor Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976-87 and was its chairman from 1981-87. In 1976, while she was serving 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 organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. With the organization which became known as the Green Belt Movement Professor Maathai has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.

In 1986 the Green Belt Movement (GBM) established a Pan African Green Belt Network that has exposed many leaders of other African countries to its unique approach. Some of these individuals have established similar tree planting initiatives in their own countries using the methods taught to improve their efforts. Countries that have successfully launched such initiatives in Africa include Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and others.

In September 1998, Professor Maathai became co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which seeks debt cancellation for African countries. Her campaign against land grabbing and rapacious allocation of forest lands has gained international attention in recent years.

Professor Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Other awards include the Disney Conservation Award (2006), the Paul Harris Fellow (2005), the Sophie Prize (2004), the Petra Kelly Prize for Environment (2004), the Conservation Scientist Award (2004), J. Sterling Morton Award (2004), WANGO Environment Award (2003), Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award (2002), Excellence Award from the Kenyan Community Abroad (2001), Golden Ark Award (1994), Juliet Hollister Award (2001), Jane Adams Leadership Award (1993), Edinburgh Medal (1993), UN’s Africa Prize for Leadership (1991), Goldman Environmental prize (1991), the Woman of the World (1989), Windstar Award for the Environment (1988), Better World Society Award (1986), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Woman of the Year Award (1983).

Professor Maathai was listed 6th in the Environment Agency (UK) peer review of the world’s Top 100 Eco-Heroes. She was also included in UNEP’s Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world. In June 1997, Professor Maathai was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the World who have made a difference in the environmental arena. In 2005, Professor Maathai was honored by Time Magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world, and by Forbes Magazine as one of 100 most powerful women in the world.

Professor Maathai has also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world: Williams college (1990), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (1994), University of Norway (1997), Yale University (2004), Willamette College (2005), University of California at Irvine (2006), and Morehouse University (2006).

The Green Belt Movement and Professor Maathai are featured in several publications including: Speak Truth to Power (Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, 2000), Women Pioneers for the Environment (Mary Joy Breton, 1998), Hopes Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe, 2002), Una Sola Terra: Donna I Medi Ambient Despres de Rio (Brice Lalonde et al, 1998), Land Ist Leben (Bedrohte Volker, 1993. Dr. Maathai has also written two books of her own: an autobiography, Unbowed, and an explanation of her organizational method, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience.

Professor Maathai serves on the boards of organisations including the UN Secretary Generals Advisory Board on Disarmament, the Jane Goodall Institute, Women and Environment Development Organization (WEDO), World Learning for International Development, Green Cross International, Environment Liaison Centre International, the Worldwide Network of Women in Environmental Work, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Prince Albert II of Monaco Environmental Foundation, and the National Council of Women of Kenya.

In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to Kenya’s parliament with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote. Until 2007, she represented the Tetu constituency, Nyeri district in central Kenya (her home region). From 2003- 2007 Professor Maathai served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s ninth parliament.

In 2005 Professor Maathai was elected the Presiding Officer of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) of the African Union based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ECOSOCC was formed to advise the African Union on issues related to the African civil society. Dr. Maathai was also honored with an appointment as Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem, where she serves in an advocacy role for the region’s conservation and protection.

In April 2006, the President of France, Mr. Jacques Chirac honoured Professor Maathai with France’s highest honour, Legion d’Honneur. The decoration ceremony took place in Paris in April 2006 and was presided over by Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, Madam Nelly Olin. Also in 2006, Professor Maathai founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with her sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. In 2007 Professor Maathai was invited to be co-chair of the Congo Basin Fund initiated by the UK government to help protect the Congo Forests.

Awards

2008, Royal Institute of British Acrchitects, Honorary Fellowship (2007)
Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (2007)
Jawarhalal Nehru Award (2007)
World Citizenship Award (2006)
The Disney Conservation Fund Award (2006)
Paul Harris Fellowship (2005)
The Sophie Prize (2004)
The Petra Kelly Prize (2004)
The Conservation Scientist Award (2004)
The J. Sterling Morton Award (2004)
The WANGO Environment Award (2003)
Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award (2002)
The Excellence Award from the Kenyan Community Abroad (2001)
The Juliet Hollister Award (2001)
The Golden Ark Award (1994)
The Jane Addams Leadership Award (1993)
The Edinburgh Medal (1993)
The Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership (1991)
The Goldman Environmental Prize (1991)
Women of the World Award (1989)
The Windstar Award for the Environment (1988)
The Better World Society Award (1986)
The Right Livelihood Award (1984)
The Woman of the Year Award (1983)

~ by afrooptimism on October 13, 2009.

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