Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, has died at age 71 after battling ovarian cancer.
Maathai was often described as an environmentalist, a Kenyan activist who started Africa’s Green Belt Movement — an effort dedicated to planting trees as a means to protect biodiversity and against habitat destruction.
But calling her an environmentalist doesn’t quite cut it.
Maathai was a bold political activist, an academic, a feminist, a fighter for social justice and someone intensely focused on the needs of the poor. For her work she was imprisoned, beaten and ostracized.
In short, she was an environmentalist only in the sense that she realized how all of these forces in a society — environment, human rights, equity — are intimately interwoven.
Maathai was also someone who constantly stressed that a single person, like a single tree, truly can make a difference. Here are some good articles describing Maathai and her work:
New York Times: Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, dies