Posts Tagged ‘tree planting’

by Marieke van Woerkom, PAZ Educator

Gerda Lerner, one of the founders of the field of women’s history, once said “When I started working on women’s history about thirty years ago, the field did not exist. People didn’t think that women had a history worth knowing.” Now, every March 8, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day.  Hundreds of events occur on this day and throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women.

In the US the whole month of March is designated as Women’s History Month.  Like other minorities, women as a group have been discriminated against, ignored and made to be invisible.  It wasn’t till the 1960s, in this country, that the women’s movement motivated women to question their invisibility in American historical texts. The women’s movement, moreover, raised the aspirations and opportunities of women across the country.  Equality between men and women is still a long way off, but progress has been made and American women today have more opportunities than those in generations past.

So what about in the rest of the world?  Here too, women face issues of discrimination and invisibility.  Of the 121 Nobel Peace Prize winners, for example, to date only 12 have been women.  Kenyan native Wangari Maathai won the prize in 2004 for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”  Wangari Mathaai was not one to let her gender limit her life.  She herself took charge and lived a life of firsts.  She was the first woman in her family to attend college, the first women in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph. D. and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1977, Wangari Maathai started a campaign that came to be known as the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. Addressing the enormously complex challenges of deforestation and global climate change, the movement partnered with poor rural women who were encouraged, and paid a small stipend, to plant millions of trees to slow deforestation across Kenya. Besides the planting of trees the movement worked to preserve biodiversity, educate people about the environment and promote Women’s and girl’s rights.

In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Wangari Maathai shared: “As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa, and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership.

In 1977, when we started the Green Belt Movement, I was partly responding to needs identified by rural women, namely lack of firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter and income.

Throughout Africa, women are the primary caretakers, holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become scarce and incapable of sustaining their families.

… Tree planting became a natural choice to address some of the initial basic needs identified by women.”

Wangari Maathai came to be known as “The Tree Woman” in her native country. She faced numerous challenges, was arrested and jailed as she worked to empower women and protect the environment.  Yet she persevered.  Her story is now told around to world to inspire and mobilize others to affect change in their communities.