Wangaari Maathai: The visionary who brought environmental justice to the global population

Wangari Maathai

Wangaari Maathai’s passing in September 2011 was met with great sadness. This Nobel Prize winning activist set up the Green Belt Movement in 1977 empowering Kenyan women in the community, educating many about the importance of sustainable forestry and helping to secure a future for generations to come of impoverished African families. She rose to fame in the 80’s campaigning heavily against forest clearance proposed by the government and was arrested and vilified several times by the government of President Daniel Arap Moi. However, her legacy remains. The Green Belt movement is having a positive effect on the people who take part in the schemes and her vision is something that world leaders are calling for to combat global climatic change.

Kenya’s forests had been ravaged by government supported forest clearance The Green Belt movement was promoted by Maathai to engage women in planting trees to help meet their needs for fuel wood, building materials, and soil conservation. The project took into account traditional gender roles of men and women in Kenya, that differ so greatly from the gender roles in the UK today, reiterating the accepted roles of women in Kenya’s culture as home keepers, mothers and community organizers, whilst allowing men to get involved as agriculture is a unisex activity, avoiding as much internal conflict as possible. Although originally met with scepticism, the women who began the project had helped to plant over 30 million trees in Kenya by 2003 and now with Government backing, the Green Belt movement in the confidence of the government have looked to engage its 35000 schools, 16350 youth groups and 4300 women’s groups to target planting 1 billion trees a year as part of their official climate response strategy (Vidal, 2011). In November 2011 the government announced that the first 450 million had been planted, that’s just 419 million more than the UK planted this year.

Maathai’s vision to counter the drought, land degradation and water shortages in Kenya has lead to not only the ability for the indigenous communities to meet their own needs, and the empowerment of women in a male dominated cultural society, but has lead to the continued reforestation and climatic response that the world’s most economic countries need to engage with. Barrack Obama’s singular contribution to the Durban climate negotiations was to pay tribute to the work of Maathai and press the need for other countries to conserve their forests to help slow the effects of a steadily warming planet.

Kenya’s reforestation project is doing justice and improving the environment not only for their population, but is a beacon to all other nations showing how such a simple, inexpensive project can bring environmental justice to the global population.

References:

Boyer-Rechlin, B. (2010) ‘Women in Forestry: A study of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and Nepal’s Community Forestry Programme,’ Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 25 (9), 69-72

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Kenya – Ensuring Wangari Maathai’s Legacy Branches Out,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 11.22am Thursday 24th November) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/24/kenya-wangari-maathai-legacy-trees?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13th March 2012]

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Barack Obama urges nations to follow lead of Wangari Maathai,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 04.46 pm Wednesday 7th December) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/07/barack-obama-wangari-maathai?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13thMarch 2012]

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