Voices of Peace

On March 8, International Women’s Day, I was lucky enough to
meet Wangari Maathai, who in 2004 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her
work with the women of the Green Belt Movement
(www.greenbeltmovement.org)
planting trees in Kenya and elsewhere. She was luminous in blue and
silver for this final event after weeks of traveling, about to give
her last speech before leaving New York City that night in a wet
snowstorm to return to Nairobi. And she was gracious when I felt
compelled to brag to her that Utne magazine had covered her work in
1992.

Wangari spoke from the same podium in Manhattan’s Cooper Union
that Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass spoke from, right down
the hall from where Susan B. Anthony had her office and where the
NAACP got its start. She is the first environmentalist and the
first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, but she
believes the significance of this award is farther reaching. She
uses the metaphor of the three-legged African stool to explain: One
leg is democracy, which encompasses respect for human rights; the
second leg is sustainable management of resources and equitable
distribution; and the third leg is peace and security. If you’re
missing any of the legs, you will fall — and that’s true for
countries as well as individuals.

‘If a clean and healthy environment is a right, you cannot gain
this right unless you have a democratic government that respects
and acknowledges rights,’ she explains. ‘If we do not have citizens
who acknowledge these rights, and also assume their
responsibilities, we’re not going to have a clean and good
environment. If people struggle over resources, you’re going to
have conflicts, not peace.’

While waiting to meet Wangari, I chatted with her daughter,
Wanjira, and Anna Lappe, co-author with her mother, Frances Moore
Lappe, of Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet
(Tarcher/Putnam, 2002). Frankie Lappe, who wrote Diet for a Small
Planet more than 30 years ago and went on to win the Right
Livelihood Award, is one of my personal heroines. I saw Anna make
her first keynote speech several years ago, to 3,000 people at the
Bioneers Conference, and last year Wanjira addressed the same
audience. The two of them laughed warmly about the mixed blessing
of being involved with the passionate work of their powerful
mothers.

Two other women I met that week in New York are Dr. Moussada
Jalal and Roshanak Ameli-Tehrani. Jalal is the medical doctor who
ran for president of Afhganistan against Hamid Karzai and 15 other
men and came in second; she is now the minister of women’s affairs.
Her young daughters both plan to be doctors (and presidents) when
they grow up. Ameli-Tehrani, who moved to the United States from
Iran when she was 6, after her father was killed, now goes back to
Iran to write what she calls ‘dispatches from the mothership’ and
is working to launch Iran’s first large-scale microfinance
initiative.

These women are the embodiment of a new feminine leadership.
Thinking of the laugh between Anna and Wanjira, of Dr. Jalal’s
daughters, of Iranian women helping each other, of new generations
of daughters — and sons — nurtured by powerful mothers gives me a
feeling of giddy optimism. Anything is possible when the qualities
of the feminine — compassion, generativity, fierce love — are
celebrated in both men and women.

In her Nobel acceptance speech, Wangari said: ‘We are called to
assist the earth, to heal her wounds and in the process heal our
own — indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity,
beauty, and wonder.’ Spoken like a woman we can all call our
own.

P.S. If you are a woman who is interested in developing
leadership skills, read about our rEVOLUTIONary Women’s event on
page 85.

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