Lack of firewood, clean water, and food were among the most pressing needs for these women. Maathai identified deforestation as the main cause of these challenges. She developed the idea of starting a movement that would help village women to plant trees, at this tyme, as a way of conserving environment. Consequently, she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 that planted over 30 million trees by the early 21st century (Ball & Heather 124). Apart from planting trees, the movement addressed social, political, and environmental issues in Kenya and the wider Central African region.
Together with other leaders from the movement, Maathai established the Pan African Green Belt Network. The aim of this organization was to educate world leaders on the need to carry out environmental conservation projects in their country. The movement’s activism led to establishment of other such movements in African countries such as Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
In her bid to protect the environment, police officers whipped Maathai during a demonstration to oppose the seizure of public land in Karura forest, located in the Northern part of Nairobi. She also joined mothers of political prisoners to fight for the release of these prisoners. As a result, 51 political prisoners were released (Ball & Heather 125). Maathai further opposed the building of a skyscraper in Uhuru Park. This park has been, and remains, an oasis of green in Nairobi city. In 2003, Maathai was appointed as the assistant minister in the ministry of environment. She introduced the same empowerment strategies applied at Green Belt Movement. These strategies involved restoring forests, protecting the existing ones while rehabilitating damaged land.
Maathai was also a human rights activist. She was an advocate for AIDS prevention and women issues. She represented these issues at meetings at the UN National Assembly. She was a