Professor Wangari Maathai contributed over many decades to furthering the ideals and objectives of the United Nations. A globally recognized champion for human rights and women’s empowerment, Professor Maathai was a pioneer in articulating the links between human rights, poverty, environmental protection and security — for which she was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Born in Kenya, the daughter of farmers in the highlands of Mount Kenya, she was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree. She subsequently became an associate Professor in Veterinary Anatomy in 1977 at the University of Nairobi and, that same year, founded the Green Belt Movement. The grassroots environmental organization has assisted women and their families in planting more than 40 million trees across Kenya to protect the environment and promote sustainable livelihoods.

In recognition of her deep commitment, the Secretary-General named her a United Nations Messenger of Peace in December 2009, with a focus on the environment and climate change, a role she carried out effectively and enthusiastically until her passing on 25 September 2011.