Equal protection Human trafficking Empathy Identity Freedom from Violence Police Brutality Economic systems Fear Caste System Health Care Exploitation China Legal Protection Farmworker Lawsuit Indigenous Womens Rights Free Elections Untouchables Accord Labor Extrajudicial Killings Individual Integrity Solidarity Needs and wants Activism Environmentalist Reform Degradation Agribusiness Refugee laogai Fair Trade Government Accountability Non-violent Activism Civil rights Emancipate Rights Religious Freedom Migrant Worker Transparency Non-violence Modern Slavery Attivismo Sociale Giustizia Human Rights Potable Water Cycle of Violence Advocate Sex slavery Environment Quality of LIfe Demilitarization Equality Social activism Decision making Family Farmer Soil Erosion Free Expression Factors of production Segregation Political Participation
Throughout Africa (as in much of the world) women hold primary responsibility for tilling the fields, deciding what to plant, nurturing the crops, and harvesting the food. They are the first to become aware of environmental damage that harms agricultural production: If the well goes dry, they are the ones concerned about finding new sources of water and those who must walk long distances to fetch it. As mothers, they notice when the food they feed their family is tainted with pollutants or impurities: they can see it in the tears of their children and hear it in their babies' cries. Wangari Maathai, Kenya's foremost environmentalist and women's rights advocate, founded the Green Belt Movement on Earth Day 1977, encouraging the farmers (70 percent of whom are women) to plant "greenbelts" to stop soil erosion, provide shade, and create a source of lumber and firewood. She distributed seedlings to rural women and set up an incentive system for each seedling that survived. To date, the movement has planted over fifteen million trees, produced income for eighty thousand people in Kenya alone, and has expanded its efforts to over thirty African countries, the United States, and Haiti. Maathai won the Africa Prize for her work in preventing hunger, and was heralded by the Kenyan government and controlled press as an exemplary citizen. A few years later, when Maathai denounced President Daniel arap Moi's proposal to erect a sixty-two-story skyscraper in the middle of Nairobi's largest park (graced by a four-story statue of Moi himself), officials warned her to curtail her criticism. When she took her campaign public, she was visited by security forces. When she still refused to be silenced, she was subjected to a harassment campaign and threats. Members of parliament denounced Maathai, dismissing her organization as "a bunch of divorcees." The government-run newspaper questioned her sexual past, and police detained and interrogated her, without ever pressing charges. Eventually Moi was forced to forego the project, in large measure because of the pressure Maathai successfully generated. Years later, when she returned to the park to lead a rally on behalf of political prisoners, Maathai was hospitalized after pro-government thugs beat her and other women protesters. Following the incident, Moi's ruling party parliamentarians threatened to mutilate her genitals in order to force Maathai to behave "like women should." But Wangari Maathai was more determined than ever, and today continues her work for environmental protection, women's rights, and democratic reform. From one seedling, an organization for empowerment and political participation has grown many strong branches. In 2004 Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts.
In 2005, Maathai was selected to preside over the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council. She was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine and one of the 100 most powerful women by Forbes magazine. She was honored in 2006 with the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award. Wangari Maathai died in September 2011 while undergoing cancer treatment at the age of 71.