Nature loses a heroine

26 September 2011 | News story

IUCN is deeply saddened by the loss of Wangari Maathai, one of Africa’s foremost environmental campaigners and a great advocate for social justice, human rights, peace and democracy. Wangari Maathai has passed away in Nairobi at the age of 71.

Professor Wangari Muta Maathai was internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights, and the environment. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1977, Wangari Maathai started the Green Belt Movement, encouraging women in rural Kenya to plant trees as a way to improve their lives through better access to clean water, fire wood for cooking and other resources. The movement brought positive change to women in rural areas and inspired countless other women across the globe.

“IUCN has lost a great friend and a role model”, says IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “A woman who was not afraid to put her own life at risk in the name of the values she fought for. She had the power to inspire women in her home Africa but also reach communities in the most remote parts of the world.”

In December 2002, Professor Wangari Muta Maathai was elected to Kenya’s parliament and appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. She was also the first woman to earn a doctorate in East Africa. In 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

“Wangari Maathai’s life is a perfect example of how great courage and determination can break all possible boundaries set by society”, says Marton-Lefèvre. “We’re going to miss her but her legacy will continue to inspire people around the world.”