Wangari Maathai and the Fight for Human Rights and the Environment

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When a fight has been going on for a long time, it can easily seem as if it will last forever. That’s what can we say about the never-ending fight for our human rights and the environment. 

These two wars look as if they will never end, and that all of us who only want to have a healthy and prospering world to live in feel as if we are the minority who can’t possibly win. 

But every once in a while, there comes a great thought leader, and most of us can delight in saying: “you see, there is hope yet.”

That’s something that we can say about Wangari Maathai, the great Kenyan environmental and human rights activist.

The Success of Wangari Maathai

For those who don’t know her, it’s best to start with arguably Maathai’s greatest achievement – the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her life was a long fight for a better future for humanity, but the Nobel committee finally gave her the recognition she truly deserved in 2004, when she was 64 years old.

Maathai got the ultimate reward for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace,” and that’s when she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s fitting as one of her biggest battles was her fight for women’s rights.

The life of this great fighter started in rural Kenya, and she spent a considerable portion of her childhood close to nature, which undoubtedly played a significant role in her later fight – that and her religion later on. Maathai got her higher education in America, where she became the first East African woman to get a Ph.D., which was in veterinary anatomy. 

Her human rights battles were victorious from early on. Her already great achievements enabled her to fight for women’s rights at the Nairobi University where she worked. The destruction of the Kenyan environment worried her much, which is why Maathai created a foundation for planting trees. 

The foundation turned into the Green Belt movement that continues its fight today even after Maathai’s death. 

Maathai presided over the National Council of Women of Kenya, a group that joins a whole host of women’s groups. However, she didn’t limit their fight to women’s rights only; they also focused on many environmental issues. As Maathai, herself has said: “I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it. I think that is what I would call the God in me. All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet.”

And care she did. Maathai’s fight intensified in the 1990s during the Kenyan pro-democracy protests. The protests were relatively successful, but she did manage to get appointed as the Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources where she could continue the fight.

She never stopped fighting until her death in 2011, and neither should any of us because only that way we can win. 

No text can do her justice except her own, which is why we advise you to read her autobiography dubbed Unbowed: A Memoir, if you’re looking to know more about her and if you’re looking to get inspired. 

The inspiration should get you to do something as well, and you certainly can do that by joining us at the next World Happiness Agora. Let’s create a better world together!