Wangari Maathai is the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. As leader of the Green Belt Movement for nearly thirty years, she mobilized poor women to plant trees to counteract the deforestation occurring in her country. She has also campaigned for broader women’s rights, education, family planning and nutrition.
Born in central Kenya in 1940, Maathai became the first woman from East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She founded the Green Belt Movement while head of the National Council of Women of Kenya. In 1988 she was severely beaten along with other members of the Green Belt Movement as the women attempted to plant trees in Karurua Forest on the outskirts of Nairobi. In 1992, riot police clubbed her and three other women unconscious in central Nairobi during a demonstration.
Maathai has been teargassed, threatened with death by anonymous callers, and jailed for leading protests. She has continued tirelessly, and today the Green Belt Movement in Kenya has planted more than 30 million trees.