Wangari Maathai, PhD, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the author four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth. As well as having been featured in a number of books, Maathai and the Green Belt Movement were the subject of a documentary film, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai.
Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya from 1976 to 1987 and was its chairman from 1981 to1987. In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Maathai introduced the idea of community based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization, which became the Green Belt Movement, whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.
Maathai was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organizations. She addressed the United Nations on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.
In 2005, the year after she won the Nobel Peace Prize, Maathai was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem by the 11 heads of state in the Congo region. The following year, 2006, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with her sister laureates, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams, and Mairead Corrigan.
In 2010, Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, established to safeguard the public land for whose protection she had sought for almost 20 years. That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies.
Maathai died in 2011 at the age of 71 after succumbing to ovarian cancer.