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Wangarĩ Maathai (1940-2011)

Wangarĩ Maathai smiles holding a small plant


#BIPOC Voices #Environmental Justice #Figures in Sustainability #Historical Icons #Sustainable Development #Tree Planting


Alidia Vane

Wangarĩ Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM), an international organization that advocated for concerns raised by rural Kenyan women. The causes they tackled included tree planting, democratizing access to public lands, environmental justice, women’s economic empowerment, and human rights. Since their founding in 1977, GBM has planted over 51 million trees and trained over 30,000 women in a variety of trades. The organization’s successes have gained them international recognition and support.

Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace” and for “serv[ing] as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights.” Maathai was the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Peace Prize. After her death in 2011, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), launched the Wangarĩ Maathai Forest Champion Award, which has recognized environmental activists from around the world.

The Maathai legacy lives and fights on via her daughter Wanjira who carries on her mother’s work and was recently listed in TIME as one of the most influential people of 2023!

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