Through my organization, the World Resources Institute Africa, we support women entrepreneurs in bringing prosperity, sustainable livelihoods and environmental restoration to their communities through the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative and Restore Local, which WRI initiated this year, and which aims to accelerate the restoration of degraded lands throughout Africa. Women like the three founders of Exotic-EPZ in Nairobi, who are processing macadamia nuts from 7,000 farmers across Kenya to sell them around the world. Women like those in the Green Belt Movement network of Maragua, Kenya, planting bamboo as a source of biomass and an opportunity for entrepreneurship.
In this work, I align myself with the work my mother undertook with the Green Belt Movement: empowering women to mobilize, regenerate their environment and stand up to powerful forces who want to marginalize them.
Like the women of Kenya, India and Argentina, we’re on the verge of losing everything we hold dear — our lives, our heritage, our livelihoods, the future of our children and their children and much of the nonhuman world. This moment calls for the feminist attributes of unity, collaboration, focused action and shared understanding. Are we going to maintain an order that has led to this terrible impasse or call for a different future, no matter how risky, in the face of political structures that seem violent and entrenched but are, in fact, fragile?
Africa has enormous potential: a vibrant, young population and an abundance of resources — whether solar or minerals. It’s up to us, as Africans, to chart the way forward to a green, resilient climate future that provides us with energy independence, eliminates poverty and protects nature.
My mother laid out a creed that millions of women continue to embody, even if they’ve never heard these words: “Those of us who understand, who feel strongly, must not tire. We must not give up. We must persist. I always say that the burden is on those who know. We are the ones who must take action.”
Or, as Professor Mũgo would remind us: “Women are coming.”
Wanjira Mathai is the managing director for Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute. She is also the current chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and the former chair of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.