Africa’s first woman Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, died at age 71 of cancer on Sunday. In 2004, Maathi was awarded the Nobel Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.” She stated in her acceptance speech, “My fellow Africans, as we embrace this recognition, let us use it to intensify our commitment to our people, to reduce conflicts and poverty, and thereby improve their quality of life. Let us embrace democratic governance, protect human rights and protect our environment.”
A renowned feminist and environmentalist, Maathi began the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which paid poor women to reforest her native country, Kenya. The movement is responsible for planting over 30 million trees in Africa and employing over 900,000 women, according to the New York Times.
June Zeitlin, former executive director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), stated, “Wangari was a founder of WEDO and supporter throughout her life time. She was an inspiration to me and countless women and men throughout the world. I had the privilege of going to Oslo when she received the Nobel Peace Prize. She used this honor to tirelessly bring her message of advancing world peace through sustainability, democracy and human rights, particularly women’s rights.”