Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan biologist who passed away in 2011, is the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She received the distinction due to “her contribution to the cause of sustainable development.”
In 1976, Wangari started the Green Belt Movement, an organization that fights forest land consumption, aiming to engage African women in tree-planting projects.
“Our efforts consisted not only of planting, but were also aimed at scattering seeds of another kind: those needed to heal the wounds inflicted on communities, despoiled of their self-esteem and self-awareness”Wangari Maathai, The Religion of the Earth
During World Environment Day in 1977, she and other women planted seven trees in a park just outside the Kenyan capital-these trees formed the first “green belt,” hence the eponymous environmental movement. Beginning in the 1980s, Maathai promoted a strong campaign to raise awareness of environmental problems and deforestation, having more than 30 million trees planted in Kenya and other African countries. In 1997, she became a symbol of female leadership, running for election against President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. In 2002, she was elected Assistant Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife, a position she held until 2007.
Through a strategy of education, family planning, conscious eating and anti-corruption, the Green Belt Movement paves the way for development from all levels of society. Maathai became an iconic voice for the best African forces, as well as the promotion of peace and prosperity on the continent. She was awarded numerous international accolades for her consistent and impactful work, including the UN Global 550 and the Goldman Environmental Award. She is remembered and celebrated to this day for her incredible contribution.