UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka on Monday hailed Professor Wangari Maathai on winning the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize saying that her award showed recognition of the courage and endeavours of African women.
“This recognition of the struggle of Prof. Wangari Maathai in Kenya is also recognition of the unheard voices of African women in their daily battle for survival and development,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said.
Addressing a conference of women environment ministers and the global women’s assembly on the environment in Nairobi, Kenya, the Executive Director said Prof. Maathai was not only an environmentalist but a leader of outstanding courage who had consistently been ready and willing to name and shame things going wrong in society.
Professor Maathai, 64, Kenya's Deputy Environment Minister, is the first African woman to be awarded the peace prize since it was created in 1901. She said the path she had taken fighting for sustainable environment had been marked by trials and triumphs throughout which the UN had encouraged and supported her to be brave, persistent and consistent in the pursuit of a holistic approach to achieve sustainable development. This recognition by the Nobel Committee was an endorsement of the role women have played and will continue to play to make the world a more peaceful place.
“The Nobel Peace Prize has recognized work which pre-empts conflict and wars. In implementing strategies which ensure holistic sustainable development, by inculcating values of democratic governance we promote respect for rights and responsibilities, justice and equity,” Professor Maathai said.
Known in Kenya as “the tree woman”, Professor Maathai started earning a name for herself in the late 1970s when she led a campaign called the Green Belt Movement to plant tens of millions of trees across Africa to stem deforestation.
At the weekend, Mrs. Tibaijuka visited Prof. Maathai at her home to congratulate her personally. Mrs. Tibaijuka presented the assistant minister with a sculpture to commemorate the award, stating that African women were the first on the firing line from environmental deterioration.
“They are the first to have to walk longer distances to fetch water when streams dry up. It is the women who have to walk longer distances in search of firewood. They are the ones who work harder to harvest so little or nothing from deteriorating soils. What is worse, when men migrate to town in search of better opportunities, women ultimately are forced to follow them and end up in the worst parts of slum settlements,” said Mrs. Tibaijuka.
Mrs. Tibaijuka said one of the factors behind rapid urbanization in Africa is environmental deterioration and the award to Prof. Wangari Maathai would help raise the profile of the growing challenge of slums and deteriorating living environments in cities and towns in Africa. This is critical especially as, currently, 72 per cent of urban dwellers in African cities, the majority of whom are women and children, live in slums without access to clean water and sanitation.
Mrs. Maathai, is the 12th woman peace laureate, and the sixth from Africa. The others are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk of South Africa in 1993, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984, and Albert John Luthuli of South Africa in 1960.