Wangari Maathai, Women’s Champion in the Fight against Climate Change in Africa

In the last century, the climate crisis was already felt all over the world, but few people decided to face it. One such person was a woman named Wangari Maathai who had the idea of ​​calling on the women of her country to unite in her fight against climate change in Africa. Learn about his story in this article.

The early years of Wangari Maathai in Kenya

Wangari Maathai was born on the 1st of April 1940 in a village in Nyiri district called Ihithe in Kenya. In 1943, she and her entire family were forced to move to the Great Rift Valley where her father got a job on a farm.

When Matai and her brothers reached the age to go to school, the family had to make an important decision. It was 1947 when Maathai, his brothers and his mother had to return to Ihithe to attend primary school. His father stayed on the farm to fulfill his business obligations.

Mathai attended Ihithe Primary School for a while, but at the age of eleven he had the opportunity to enter a Catholic school called St Cecilia’s School. There he remained a student for four years. In that place, he had the privilege of studying English and showed a great interest in the language, to the point of speaking it fluently.

Wangari has always distinguished herself in her studies, and thanks to her achievements she was able to finish her with honors in 1956 as the first of her class. As everything progressed for her, she secured admission to Loreto Secondary School in Limuru, the only preparatory school for girls in Kenya with a Catholic footprint.

Mathai’s academic trajectory continued to be favourable mainly due to his determination to improve himself. A characteristic that prompted her in 1960 to obtain one of 300 scholarships to continue her higher studies in the United States. These were part of a program promoted by then-Senator John F. Kennedy through the Joseph B. Kennedy Jr.

Scholarship that changed his life

The Mathai Scholarship has opened the doors of Mount Saint Scholastica College, now named after Benedictine College. This institution is located in Atchison, Kansas, where Mathai was able to study biology, chemistry, and German. In 1964 he was awarded bachelor of science This allowed him to obtain funding from the African American Institute to pursue a master’s degree in biology, but this time at the University of Pittsburgh.

During the time Wangari lived in the United States, her first approaches to combating climate change and other protests against women’s rights inspired her and later applied in Africa.

In 1966, it was time for Maathai to earn a master’s degree in biological sciences, which was accompanied by a job offer that would make her return to Kenya. The position he will occupy will be Research Assistant to Professor of Zoology at the University of Nairobi College.

When she arrived at the university, bad news awaited her. There they told him that the position had been handed over to someone else. The fact that Maathai suspected that she was abandoned due to gender issues. Two months after that bad moment, a new opportunity arose, this time at the hands of Professor Reinhold Hoffmann. He was invited to work in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi, and there he worked as a research assistant in the Department of Microscopic Anatomy. In the same year she met the man who would later become her husband: Mwangi Maathai, a candidate for Parliament.

Credits: Green Bent movement.

East African PhD.

In 1967, Professor Hoffmann convinced her to pursue a doctorate in Germany. Matai once again packed his bags to travel to the European country and study for a doctorate at the universities of Munich and Giessen.

By 1969, Matai had returned to Nairobi. That year she married Mwangi Maathai and also continued to study at the local university as an assistant professor. Soon after the marriage, she became pregnant with her first daughter, who was born the year she would receive her Ph.D., in 1971.

Maathai was the first East African woman to earn a Ph.D. She received her veterinary anatomy degree thanks to her thesis on the development and differentiation of bovine gonads.

activity during the seventies

The 1970s were closely related to Wangari’s life. He continued to achieve business achievements and saw his family grow in number. While dividing her time between mother and work, she was also able to get involved in social, political, and environmental issues.

As a member of the Kenya Association of Women Universities, Maathai has campaigned for equal benefits for female university workers.

She actively participated in many organizations such as the Red Cross and others for environmental purposes such as the Liason Environmental Center, where she became president.

She was also a volunteer in various associations and a member of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). In addition, she came to participate in the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Among the measures enacted by Maathai to restore the environment in Kenya is the reforestation plan initially called “Save the Land of Harambe”. This initiative then goes on to be called the Green Belt Movement.

While coordinating this movement, Maathai decided it was time for Kenyan women to take a more active role in environmental issues. For this reason, he issued the creation of greenhouses throughout the country. As part of that initiative, Kenyan women have been offered a small contribution to plant native trees across Kenya.

Wangari Maathai has received many awards and recognitions throughout her life.

Expanding the Green Belt Movement

In 1985, the United Nations held the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi. In this regard, the Green Belt Movement was able to obtain funds to expand to other regions of Africa. This goal was achieved in 1986. The expansion led to the establishment of the African Green Belt Network.

In the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Kenyan government turned against Maathai and the Green Belt movement. Their relationship was very strained. Maathai has protested on several occasions the Kenyan government’s egregious actions against the environment. This resulted in Maathai being imprisoned on several occasions.

Matay was unable to escape persecution by the Kenyan government, until she was forced to vacate her office from the Green Belt Movement. This forced her to install it in her home. The government was determined to eradicate the movement, but it did not succeed.

She came to her country’s parliament in 2002 as a candidate for the National Rainbow Alliance, and by 2003 she was the Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources of Kenya. That same year he founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya, which upheld the ideals of the Green Belt Movement.

In 2006, he was the leader of the United Nations’ Sow for Planet Earth campaign.

Wangari Maathai died on September 25, 2011 due to complications from ovarian cancer while receiving treatment at a Nairobi hospital.

Confessions made by Wangari Maathai

Matai throughout his life received many awards and recognition. Some of them include: the Goldman Environment Prize, the Hunger Project Prize for African Leadership, the Edinburgh Medal (for “outstanding contribution to humanity through science”), the Global Environment Prize, the World NGO Association, the Citizen of the World Prize and the Indira Gandhi Prize.

The main recognition that Wangari Maathai received was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 “for his contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. In this way, her fight against climate change made her the first woman in Africa to win it and one of the few women in the world to receive this award.

Wangari Maathai will always be remembered as the “Woman of the Tree”, as well as for her tireless fight against climate change and her insistence that women in Africa can do great things for the environment.


Kenyan political activist and environmental advocate: Wangari Mathai:

Green Bent . movement:

Wangari Maathai: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who has dedicated her life to protecting the planet:

Wangari Muta Matai: “Woman Tree – The Woman Tree”:

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