Being a native of my homeland Kenya, It is with great pride that I introduce today's woman of the week. As a champion and advocate for women's rights, founder of the Green Belt Movement, an environmentalist, a former parliamentarian and Nobel laureate; Wangare Maathai is truly a woman worthy of esteemed regard.
To add on to her list of achievements, Wangare Maathai was the first African woman to receive a doctorate degree in Eastern and Central Africa. She 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.
The Early Years: Professor Maathai is destined to be a great woman
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.
Tree planting initiatives in Kenya
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.
Champion for womens rights, the environment and our country
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.
A proud moment for Kenyans everywhere
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)