Women Who Rock: Wangari Maathai

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday.


Raised by a family of subsistence farmers in rural Kenya, Wangari Muta Maathai recognized the connection between outdated farming practices, erosion, and poverty early on in life. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which hired village women to plant trees in order to stop this vicious cycle. Maathai has been very vocal about the link between poor farming practices and armed conflicts in Africa. “Quite often, the wars are fought over resources, and many of the wars that today are being fought in the world are based on the natural resources. And so it is extremely important that we manage our resources on this planet sustainably and that we promote justice and equity and human rights,” she said in 2004, the year she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai’s political and environmental views were on occasion met with physical violence. She was repeatedly harassed, beaten, and arrested by authorities for carrying out politically unpopular campaigns during the despotic regime of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, who thought women had no place challenging the projects of men. But more than thirty years later, the Green Belt Movement is credited with planting 30 million trees across Africa.

Further reading:

  • Wangari Maathai, NobelPrize.org biography
  • The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience by Wangari Maathai
  • Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World by Jane Breskin Zalben
  • Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
  • [Photo: AP]