Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Woman who never died

By: Sharanya Ramesh

Wangari Maathai. The first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work on promoting conservation, women's rights and transparent government died on today, the 28th of September 2011, leaving behind a grieving nation and a sorrowful world. Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. She was elected as an MP in 2002 and served as a minister in the Kenyan government for a time.Ms Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted 20-30 million trees in Africa.
To most people her death means the loss of an important figure in the history of the world. To me, her death is the loss of an idol. To me, she was everything a woman should be; strong, independent and loud. She voiced her opinions against those that went against her country and her people. She was tear gassed and oppressed by those (many of them being men) who believed that a woman’s place is in the house. Her work in the field of spreading awareness of AIDS was phenomenal and even though her work had raised many controversies in the conservative land of Africa, she spoke her mind and helped millions.
In one of my favourite speeches delivered by her, she said, “I have warned people against false beliefs and misinformation such as attributing this disease to a curse from God or believing that sleeping with a virgin cures the infection. These prevalent beliefs in my region have led to an upsurge in rape and violence against children. It is within this context, also complicated by the cultural and religious perspective that I often speak. I have therefore been shocked by the ongoing debate generated by what I am purported to have said. It is therefore critical for me to state that I neither say nor believe that the virus was developed by white people or white powers in order to destroy the African people. Such views are wicked and destructive.”
One of the biggest reasons why Maathai stood out is because even after her nobel recognition, her work did not stop. On 28 March 2005, she was elected the first president of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council and was appointed a goodwill ambassador for an initiative aimed at protecting the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.In 2006 she was one of the eight flagbearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Also on 21 May 2006, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by and gave the commencement address at Connecticut College. She supported the International Year of Deserts and Desertification program. In November 2006, she spearheaded the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. Maathai was one of the founders of The Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality.
Her work reminded me and continues to remind me of the importance of the power of one person in this world. Wangari Maathai did not come from great riches, nor did she have an easy life. Her work, however spoke for itself. Wangari Maathai might have died today, but her work and her inspiration will always remain a lesson that I will never forget.

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