New Internationalist

Unbowed: One Woman’s Story

Issue 399

Wangari Maathai is a remarkable woman who has led an extraordinary life.

Born into rural poverty in Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai is a remarkable woman who has led an extraordinary life. A simple list of her achievements is enough to leave the reader gasping at her stamina and fortitude. One of the first girls from her village to receive an education, she was in the vanguard of African exchange students in the US. She became the first woman in Kenya to be awarded a PhD and the first to head a university department.

In addition to combining a demanding academic career with being a wife and mother in Kenya’s patriarchal society, she became a community activist, involving herself in both feminist and ecological movements. Wangari was radicalized by the way the despotic regime of Daniel Arap Moi had betrayed the hopes of Kenyan independence; in particular the devastating effects illegal logging and corrupt land-grabs had on the natural environment. In 1977 she formed the Green Belt Movement, a network of (mostly rural) women. These ‘foresters without diplomas’ planted trees and campaigned against deforestation as well as being a living example of feminist direct action and a powerful voice for democracy. Despite savage state violence and repression, the movement spread across Africa and established links with environmentalists across the globe. In 2004, in recognition of decades of campaigning for justice, Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman to win the award. In Unbowed, Wangari tells her story with dignity and humour; she is generous and open-hearted to friend and foe alike, and her obvious love of her land and its people shines through this inspirational book like a beacon of hope.

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