“It’s little things citizens do that will make the difference… My little thing is planting trees.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Professor Wangari Maathai is a woman of many firsts, she was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and the first woman to chair a university department in the region. Her efforts to save the environment – specifically forests and public land – are well documented, but it is her bravery and tenacity to stay true to her calling that is most admirable.
Wangari Maathai: a culture of purpose and integrity that inspires courageous leadership
In 1976, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. She was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. She served on the board of many organisations.
When Norwegian Nobel Committee honoured her with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 it intended to send a new and historic message to the world: this is for people to rethink peace and security. The committee wanted to challenge the world to discover the close linkage between good governance, sustainable management of resources, and peace. In managing our resources, we need to realise that they are limited and need to be managed more sustainably, responsibly, and accountably. It is also important that the resources be shared more equitably.
“Good governance seeks justice and equity”
In line with 2020 International Women’s Day theme ‘’I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights’’, Professor Wangari Maathai believed that sustainable management of the resources is only possible if we practice good governance, which calls for respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, a willingness to give space and a voice to the weak and the more vulnerable in our societies; that we respect the voice of the minority, even while accepting the decision of the majority, and respect diversity. Good governance seeks justice and equity for all irrespective of race, religion, gender, and any other parameters, which man uses to discriminate and exclude. Good governance is indeed inclusive and seeks participatory democracy. We need to celebrate and emulate her for the courage, tenacity and diligence.
More info on The Green Belt Movement: http://www.greenbeltmovement.org
About the author
Teresa Gitonga has been working with International Tree Foundation since 2018. She is in charge of ITF Kenyan Programmes, a campaign that is growing community led action to protect, restore and care for the environment and sustain livelihoods. That program also aims at empowering women and supporting groups in response to deforestation, land degradation and climate shocks. She has worked with Professor Wangari Maathai at the Green Belt Movement for 5 Years (2007-2011). She describes Maathai as “a great mentor and transformative leader”.