March 2, 2016

Wangari Maathai Day – March 3, 2016 [Women’s History Month]

Posted by Laura Guertin

For the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, I am dedicating my weekly blog posts to the outstanding organizations, resources, and inspiring stories about women in STEM. You can view my posts from last year and this year by searching on the tag “Women’s History Month”.


I can think of no better way to kick off Women’s History Month with a celebration of the life and contributions of Dr. Wangari Maathai – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2004), founder of the Green Belt Movement (1977), and a strong advocate for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation and sustainable development in Africa. The timing is perfect, as international celebrations are held annually on March 3rd for Wangari Maathai Day. In January 2012, the African Union (AU) adopted a decision calling for the joint celebrations of the African Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day.

The 2016 celebrations will be commemorated with the theme: Strengthening Women’s Rights over Natural Resources. This theme is an extension of the theme from the January 2016 African Union Summit which was African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on Women’s Rights.

View this video to learn more about Wangari Maathai’s work and story behind the Green Belt Movement (with some great Google Earth imagery), an organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.

Highlights of Dr. Maathai’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize lecture is included below, and here is a transcript of her speech.

Dr. Maathai passed away in 2011. But she has left us an incredible legacy and spirit to inspire us all to do our part for peace, equality, and the environment. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Maathai speak, and to this day, I am still in awe of her vision, her bravery, and her passion to fight for what is right for people and for our planet. Her journey was never an easy one, but she knew it was the right road to be on. In fact, her memoir Unbowed is the book I selected for a University Library Recognition when I received tenure (GeoEd Trek blog post on P&T Recognition through a University Library).

In many of her speeches, Dr. Maathai liked to tell the story of the hummingbird, always ending with the statement, “I am the hummingbird.” Below, you can watch her tell the story – and then think about how each of us can be a hummingbird for our planet.

“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”  ―  Wangari Maathai, Unbowed