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CANR Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access Posts

Dr. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai

Dr. Wangarĩ Muta Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. Wangari Maathai obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964). She subsequently earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966). She pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

Dr. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to plant trees across Kenya, alleviate poverty and end conflict. She was driven by a perceived connection between environmental degradation and poverty and conflict. “Poor people will cut the last tree to cook the last meal,” she once said. “The more you degrade the environment, the more you dig deeper into poverty.”

She mobilized Kenyans, particularly women, to plant more than 30 million trees, and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that has led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide. More than 900,000 Kenyan women benefited from her tree-planting campaign by selling seedlings for reforestation.

Wangari Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the earth summit. She served on the commission for Global Governance and Commission on the Future. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Others accolades include The Sophie Prize (2004), The Petra Kelly Prize for Environment (2004), The Conservation Scientist Award (2004), J. Sterling Morton Award (2004), WANGO Environment Award (2003), Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award (2002), Excellence Award from the Kenyan Community Abroad (2001), Golden Ark Award (1994), Juliet Hollister Award (2001), Jane Addams Leadership Award (1993), Edinburgh Medal (1993), The Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership (1991), Goldman Environmental Prize (1991), the Woman of the World (1989), Windstar Award for the Environment (1988), Better World Society Award (1986), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Woman of the Year Award (1983). Professor Maathai was also listed on UNEP’s Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world. In June 1997, Wangari was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. Professor Maathai has also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world: William’s College, MA, USA (1990), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (1994), University of Norway (1997) and Yale University (2004).

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Kadiatou Balde and Zainab Koli

Ramadan Mubarak!

As the Muslim community embarks on one of the holiest months in their faith, Ramadan, we’d like to showcase two Muslim women who founded an organization that blends faith and environmental sustainability through education, activism and entrepreneurship.

Kadiatou Balde and Zainab Koli launched Faithfully Sustainable. This organization engages with an online community of more than 2,500 members through social media posts, talks and fellowships. Across spaces of minority narratives, they encourage members to understand and adopt sustainable practices.

Kadiatou Balde’s passion for environmentalism came from lived experience. She was born in the Bronx, New York, Lenape territory. However, she spent much of her childhood in Guinea, West Africa, which informed Balde on environmental injustice.

Zainab Koli is an Indian American Muslim woman born and raised in Queens, New York, occupied land of the Matinecock tribe, a division of the Algonquin Nation and Lenape people. Community is at the center of everything Koli does. 

Koli and Balde graduated from schools in the State University of New York system and received awards in their senior years. They met at the awards ceremony in Albany, New York, in a chance encounter that Balde calls fate. As Koli said, “When two hijabis see each other at an event, they say hi.”

When starting Faithfully Sustainable, Koli and Balde embarked on a journey to learn more about the connection between sustainability and their Islamic faith. They both cite the book “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet” by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin as integral to their understanding of sustainability and environmental justice.

Their largest campaign to date is the No Eid Shopping campaign, which encourages community members to reduce consumption by wearing clothes they already own for Eid. They also encouraged their community members to donate the money they would have used for clothes to worthy causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Eid takes place at the end of Ramadan. The name “Eid al-Fitr” translates as “the festival of the breaking of the fast.” This year, Eid al-Fitr will begin the evening of Friday, April 21, 2023.

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Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandon is one of the most famous and successful people with autism. She has devoted her life to reducing the stress of animals and people with autism.

Grandin was unable to talk at age three and exhibited many behavioral problems. As a child, she was withdrawn and extremely sensitive to touch and sound. She went through many hours of speech therapy and intensive teaching, enabling Temple to learn speech. She was later diagnosed with autism. Her parents, rejecting a doctor’s advice to place her in an institution, instead sent their daughter to a series of private schools where her high IQ was nurtured.

Mentoring by her high school science teacher and her aunt on her ranch in Arizona motivated Temple to study and pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer. She obtained her B.A. at Franklin Pierce College and her M.S. in Animal Science at Arizona State University. Dr. Grandin received her Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1989. 

Dr. Grandin is a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Facilities she has designed are located in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Almost half of North America’s cattle are handled in a center track restrainer system she designed for meat plants. Curved chute and race systems she has designed for cattle are used worldwide and her writings on the flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior have helped many people to reduce stress on their animals during handling.

She has also developed an objective scoring system for assessing the handling of cattle and pigs at meat plants. Many large corporations are using this scoring system to improve animal welfare. Other research areas are cattle temperament, environmental enrichment for pigs, reducing dark cutters and bruises, bull fertility, training procedures, horse perception of novel objects, and effective stunning methods for cattle and pigs at meat plants.

Grandin has said she can understand animals’ reactions to sensory stimuli because she has had the same reaction to loud noises and sudden movements. “Animals are very aware of small, sensory details in the environment,” and so are people on the autism spectrum, she said in a 2014 interview for the Stanford Medicine website

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Dr. Mary Engle Pennington

According to the National Women’ns Hall of Fame, today’s supermarket refrigerated and frozen food sections are the direct result of the pioneering work of Dr. Mary Engle Pennington. A bacteriological chemist, food scientist and refrigeration engineer, Pennington devoted most of her career to studying refrigeration and its application to food freshness and safety.

Pennington’s interest in science was apparent early when, at age 12, she became fascinated with a book on medical chemistry. She went to the University of Pennsylvania and demanded that a professor explain what she had read to her. The professor suggested that she learn to read and spell the words and return when she was older, promising to help her when she did so.

Denied a bachelor’s degree in 1892 because of her gender, Mary Engle Pennington received a certificate of proficiency in chemistry and then earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at the same institution, the University of Pennsylvania, in 1895. She founded the Philadelphia Clinical Laboratory in 1898, joined the US Department of Agriculture in 1905, became FDA’s first female lab chief under Harvey Wiley following the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act and became the Chief of its Food Research Lab in 1908.

Pennington’s work helped establish that maintaining low bacterial counts in refrigerated foods such as eggs, milk, and cheese was critical to food safety and purity. Pennington steadfastly refused to appear in court hearings or allow her staff to do so, keeping her sole focus on research.

In 1919 she left civil service to continue her work on food preservation. Then she developed new interests in the safety of the new frozen foods that dominated the later years of her professional life.

In 1923, Pennington was recognized by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) as the foremost American authority on home refrigeration. She was profiled by the New Yorker as “Ice Woman” in 1941, was the first woman elected to the Poultry Historical Society Hall of Fame (1959) and was elected a fellow by the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers in 1947.

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International Women’s Day #EmbraceEquity

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year the theme is “Embrace Equity.”

The United Nations recognized the day for the first time in 1975. Several countries, including Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau and Ukraine, now celebrate IWD as a national holiday.

The aim of the 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme is to get the world talking about Why equal opportunities aren’t enough. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. 

We can all challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion. 

Collective activism is what drives change. From grassroots action to wide-scale momentum, we can all embrace equity. 

Forging gender equity isn’t limited to women solely fighting the good fight. Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women.

Here are some ways to join the cause and mark this day:

Donate or volunteer: There are many community groups helping girls and women. Pick a cause, learn about it and support a group helping with it. Certain issues such as access to clean watersanitation and education disproportionately affect women.

Support global campaigns for gender equity: UN Women is one of many organizations that are championing women’s empowerment.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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