By Gillian Burke
ENVIRONMENTALISM is a white, middle-class privilege. I hear this a lot. This is the fourth post in my takeover series about Professor Wangari Maathai who was a Kenyan political and environmental activist, and the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Professor Maathai was the founder of a tree-planting campaign that became known as The Green Belt Movement. The intention was to help empower Kenyan women by encouraging them to plant trees. Make no mistake though, this wasn’t a well meaning but misguided exercise in landscaping. What Maathai did was extraordinary and counter-intuitive.
She had the foresight to listen to women in rural communities and ask them how this was impacting their lives
She could see swathes of rural Kenya becoming denuded of trees, and topsoil being washed away but, before rushing in, she had the foresight to listen to women in rural communities and ask them how this was impacting their lives – how it was harder to grow food, how they faced longer journeys to gather firewood and water.
Maathai was able to unite whole communities behind the shared needs of environment and people.
My final post in this series will look at the fabled sweet spot where economic viability, a healthy natural environment and an equitable society could meet. Read it here.