Professor Wangari Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940. She was an environmental and social activist, an educator, a politician, an author, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and so much more.
Wangari Maathai earned two degrees in the United States: a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and a Master of Science from University of Pittsburgh. From there, she studied in Germany and at the University of Nairobi where she eventually earned her PhD, making her the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree. Shortly after, she became the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor at the University of Nairobi.
Social and Environmental Activism
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Wangari Maathai was deeply involved in the National Council of Women of Kenya, even serving as its chairman for several years. Here, she introduced the concept of community-based tree planting for environmental conservation and as a means of reducing poverty. This idea eventually developed into the Green Belt Movement.
This was just a starting point. In addition to the Green Belt Movement, she spoke at the United Nations regarding women’s rights and the environment on many occasions. She was involved with many organizations including the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament, the Women and Environment Development Organization, the WorldWIDE Network of Women in Environmental Work, and more.
The Nobel Prize
In 2004, Professor Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her Green Belt Movement, becoming the first black African woman to win a Nobel Prize. A couple of years later, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with fellow female Nobel Prize winners.
Unfortunately, Wangari Maathai passed away in 2011 at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer. The world lost a truly magnificent person that day, but the impact she had on women’s rights, the environment, and the world as a whole will live on as her legacy.