Nobel Laureate, Pitt Alumna Wangari Maathai To Speak at Pitt

Issue Date: 
October 9, 2006


             Wangari Muta Maathai 

Wangari Muta Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Pitt alumna, will speak in the University’s Alumni Hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 about her 30-year effort to reforest her native Kenya by planting 30 million trees and the seeds of change for the future of women.

Her lifetime of triumphant accomplishments on the international stage has made Maathai one of the most effective and powerful women leaders in the world.

To recognize her outstanding achievements, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg will confer on her on honorary doctoral degree.

“In the 1960s, the University of Pittsburgh helped nurture the intellect and curiosity of a very bright young biologist,” Nordenberg said. “Wangari Muta Maathai went on to make profound contributions to improving the natural environment, the economic status of women, and democratic ideals. Insofar as Pitt helped lay the foundation for those achievements, we have educated well and wisely.”

Following her speech in Alumni Hall’s Connolly Ballroom, Maathai will sign copies of her autobiography, Unbowed (Random House, 2006), at a reception in the Commons Room of the Cathedral of Learning. Both events are free and open to the public.

Maathai’s visit to Pittsburgh is cosponsored by Pitt, the Heinz Endowments, and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

After receiving her B.S. degree in biology from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kan., Maathai came to Pitt to continue her studies. Here she earned the Master of Science degree in 1965, intending to teach and conduct research when she returned home to the Nyeri district in Central Kenya. In 1971, she received her Ph.D. in anatomy from the University of Nairobi—the first woman to earn a doctorate in east or central Africa—and became chair of that university’s Department of Veterinary Anatomy.

Motivated by the economic plight of women in Kenya and by the deforestation of her once-lush homeland as a result of timber raiders and poor crop management, she interrupted her academic career to run for Parliament. She lost that race and, because of her activism, lost her position at the university.

Her response was to launch a now-legendary grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, which mobilized the women whose lives were relegated to working the land to plant millions of trees throughout Kenya, restoring both the earth and the livelihoods of the women and their families.

At the same time, she was unwavering in her activism to promote democracy, the end of political corruption, and tribal politics.

Her commitment to the environment, the empowerment of women, and democracy often put her at risk. She was arrested several times, beaten unconscious by police during a protest, and led a hunger strike.

But her enduring passion for her causes has been rewarded since by international recognition and the emulation of her movement elsewhere in Africa. She has addressed the United Nations on several occasions and served on the U.N. Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.

In 2004, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

Among her numerous other awards are France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, presented this year. She is listed in the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Hall of Fame and was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2002, Maathai was elected to Kenya’s Parliament and appointed by Kenya’s president as assistant minister for environment and natural resources. Last year, she was elected presiding officer of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union.