For the first time an African woman has won the Nobel Peace Prize, it was announced Friday. The woman, Professor Wangari Maathai, 64, is an environmentalist and human rights activist from Kenya, and she is only the 12th woman ever to receive the peace award in the prize’s 103-year history.
Known in Kenya as “The Tree Woman,” Maathai first gained widespread recognition in 1977 when she founded a campaign called the Green Belt Movement to plant trees and slow the spread of deforestation throughout Africa.
The movement soon expanded to include projects to protect biodiversity, educate people about their environment and promote the rights of women and girls.
The Nobel Committee praised Maathai for combining science with social engagement and politics and for working at both the local and international level, according to press reports.
The Green Belt movement “both reduces the effects of deforestation and provides a forum for women to be creative and effective leaders,” according to WomenAid International, a London-based humanitarian aid and development agency. “Involving women as equal participants and developers of the Green Belts leads to a positive self-image for women and consequently provides models of significant female achievement.”
Maathai was elected to parliament in 2002, and now serves as assistant environment minister.
A record 194 individuals and organizations were nominated for the prize this year, including former chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix and the head of the U.N. energy watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, BBC News reported.
Last year the award went to another woman, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who was honored as a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century last May for her work on behalf of women’s rights in Iran.
The other female Peace Prize winners were Bertha von Suttner, Jane Addams, Emily Balch, Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Alva Myrdal, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Rigoberta Manchu, and Jody Williams.
The day before Maathai’s award announcement, an Austrian woman whose provocative novels and plays explore gender issues and power relationships in contemporary society was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. The woman, Elfriede Jelinek, is the 10th woman to receive the literature award in the prize’s 103-year history.
Jelinek is a celebrated writer in Austria and Germany. In her fiction she has delved into controversial subjects such as pornography, sadomasochism, persecution and what she sees as the degradation of women at the hands of men.
She has been a vocal critic of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but her discussions of gender have earned her the most widespread notice. Her 1992 novel, “Lust,” for example, criticized the institution of marriage as enabling men to inflict violence on women. The book caused some critics to label her a man-hater, but supporters praised her courage and passion to deal with tough gender issues.
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Green Belt Movement:
Canada STOLEN SISTERS
Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada:
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Follow-Up: A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the request from the woman who accused Kobe Bryant of rape to remain anonymous in her civil lawsuit against the basketball star. The Colorado judge ruled that the public’s interest in open court proceedings outweighs the accuser’s desire to shield her identity.
Aboriginal women in Canada have largely been ignored by police and other officials, contributing to “an appalling state of racial discrimination and social marginalization,” according to an Amnesty International report released Monday. Over the last 30 years, over 500 aboriginal women have disappeared or been murdered, Amnesty said.
In its report, “Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada,” the human rights group condemned what it says is a “terrible official indifference and apathy” toward native women, particularly those who end up in the sex trade.
Indigenous women’s organizations have long tried to draw attention to what they call an epidemic of violence against indigenous women and children. The National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, based in Ottawa, praised Amnesty for raising awareness.
“Any form of violence is warfare against our women,” said Susanne Point, a member of the aboriginal group in a press release on Thursday. “And the degree to which Canadian society tolerates the sexual and physical abuse against our women and children is an indication of this warfare.”
The incidence of poverty and homelessness among Indigenous people in Canada is extremely high, according to Amnesty, and prostitution often seems the only option for Aboriginal women. The resulting vulnerability of these women, the report says, “has been exploited by Indigenous and non-Indigenous men to carry out acts of extreme brutality” against them.
Amnesty officials called on Canada’s government to act quickly to remedy the situation. “Internationally the Canadian government has taken the lead on many human rights issues,” said Amnesty’s Secretary-General Irene Khan at a press conference on Monday. “Canada must implement at home that which it implores others to do abroad.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the federal ministry of aboriginal affairs have yet to comment on the report to the press.