Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya (Africa) in 1940. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
Upon returning to Kenya, Maathai dropped her forename, preferring to be known by her birth name, Wangari Muta. When she arrived at the university to start her new job, she was informed that it had been given to someone else. Maathai believed this was because of gender and tribal bias. After a two-month job search, Professor Reinhold Hofmann, from the University of Giessen in Germany,
Maathai and her husband, Mwangi Mathai, separated in 1977. After a lengthy separation, Mwangi filed for divorce in 1979. Mwangi was said to have believed Wangari was “too strong-minded for a woman” and that he was “unable to control her”.
Wangari Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976-87 and was its chairman in 1981-87. It was while she served in the National Council of Women that she introduced the idea of planting trees with the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life.
She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the earth summit. She served on the commission for Global Governance and Commission on the Future. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
Professor Maathai was also listed on UNEP’s Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world. In June 1997, Wangari was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. Professor Maathai has also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world: William’s College, MA, USA (1990), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (1994), University of Norway (1997) and Yale University (2004).
In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote. She was subsequently appointed by the president, as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in Kenya’s ninth parliament.
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