Educate, Agitate, Organize
compiled by Jessica Maxwell
Womens Day (March 8) with Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai is the first African woman and the first environmentalist
to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In describing the connection between environmentalism
and peace, Maathai says that almost all wars are conflicts over resources.
Maathai worked in the context of an authoritarian government
as she fought against powerful business and political interests, yet was undaunted
by arrests and beatings. Time in the US during the 1960s prepared her, she comments,
to work against injustice in her own land. Listening to grassroots women led
her to begin the Green Belt Movement and the eventual planting of over 30 million
trees by low-income women in local chapters.
The Nobel Committee wrote, Maathai stood up courageously
her unique forms of action have continued to draw attention to political oppression
nationally and internationally. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable
development that embraces democracy, human rights and womens rights in
She remains a model of perseverance and hope for all of us
as we celebrate her contributions on International Womens Day.
Wangari Maathais Statement on receiving
the Nobel Peace Prize
October 10, 2004
I would like to thank the Nobel Committee for the unparalleled honour of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2004. By making this award, the Nobel Committee has placed the critical issues of environmental conservation, democratic governance and community empowerment and peace before the eyes of the world, and for that I am profoundly grateful. The 30 million trees planted by Green Belt Movement volunteers mostly rural women throughout Kenya over the past 30 years are a testament to individuals ability to change the course of environmental history.
Working together, we have proven that sustainable development is possible;
that reforestation of degraded land is possible; and that exemplary governance
is possible when ordinary citizens are informed, sensitised, mobilized and involved
in direct action for their environment.
This is a great day for Kenya and especially for members of the Green Belt
Movement and the global green movement. It is also a wonderful opportunity to
help inspire the nations of the world toward the goals of environmental sustainability,
human rights, gender equality and peace. On behalf of all African women, I want
to express my profound appreciation for this honour, which will serve to encourage
women in Kenya, in Africa and around the world to raise their voices and not
to be deterred.
I also want to thank the press here in Kenya and around the world for walking
with us in bad and good times.
After 30 years of struggle to renew Kenyas natural resources and instill
a sense of responsibility and ownership at the grassroots level, this elevation
to the august company of Nobel laureates like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu,
Kofi Annan, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Shireen Ebadi is a totally unexpected
and gratifying validation.
Some people have asked what the relationship is between peace and environment,
and to them I say that many wars are fought over resources, which are becoming
increasingly scarce across the earth. If we did a better job of managing our
resources sustainably, conflicts over them would be reduced. So, protecting
the global environment is directly related to securing peace.
Many people have asked me through the years of struggle how I have kept going,
how I have continued even when my ideas and my work were challenged or even
ignored. Those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have
the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.
I would like to call on young people, in particular, to take inspiration from
this prize. Despite all the constraints that they face, there is hope in the
future in serving the common good. What my experiences have taught me is that
service to others has its own special rewards.
When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also
secure the future for our children. One of the first things I did yesterday
when I got the extraordinary news about this prize was to plant a Nandi flame
tree. It was at the foot of Mt. Kenya, which has been a source of inspiration
to me and to generations before me.
So, on this wonderful occasion, I call on all Kenyans and those around the
world to celebrate by planting a tree wherever you are. Once again, I want
to thank members of the press, members of the Green Belt Movement, friends
who have been with me all along, and my three children, Waweru, Wanjira and