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Staff Spotlight: Women in Conversation

02nd May 2024

In African drylands, the effects of the climate crisis continue to be felt. For rural communities, its impact is having a devastating effect on lives and livelihoods. And because women are more likely to depend on natural resources for their survival, it’s women and girls who are feeling this impact the most.

Today, we’re shining a spotlight on two members of the Tree Aid team, who have dedicated their careers to international development, environmental work and advancing the rights of women and girls in African drylands.

Join Annie Schultz, our advocacy advisor, and Nathalie Ouedraogo, our gender and social inclusion officer, as they sit down to discuss their careers, who inspires them, and what it means to be making a positive impact on women’s empowerment through their work. 


Portraits of Nathalie and Annie with dark green background



I realised that since we work together all the time, I'd never really had the chance to ask you a little about the reasons for your vocation. What led you to specialise in gender?


I was lucky enough to have a father who didn't differentiate between the education of boys and girls, quite the opposite in fact! He emphasised that girls should be able to study, even though he didn't go to school himself. My mother was a shopkeeper in a market. And so, during the holidays, I was at the market to help my mum. It was the kind of environment where there were a lot of women who were very, very dedicated to their work and most of the time, also responsible for educating their kids. That’s why I chose to pursue sociology and later, specialise in gender. I wanted to understand people’s attitudes, especially towards women who really work hard but whose work is seen as inferior in our societies.


It’s great to be able to hear a little bit about your background, what brought you to Tree Aid today with your expertise as a woman and especially as a woman who grew up in an environment so different from mine.  Across so many differences, we find each other in the sharing of our gender. In the end, we find each other fighting a common battle. And I think that's great.

Now that you've been with Tree Aid for quite a while, have you had any moments in where you really felt we had an impact?


These are not issues that we want [to change] overnight because it's really a process that takes a lot of time. Fortunately, Tree Aid's projects are over five years old, and we can already say that we've made an impact. In our communities, in normal times, if you don't own a field, you can't plant a tree, and most of the women have said that she's a stranger in her husband's house, she's a stranger in her own house too. So very few communities allowed women to plant a tree, to put a tree in the ground. We can now see that women are very much involved in reforestation issues. We can even say that this has had a major impact on the [tree] survival rate, because with the various awareness-raising campaigns, women are able to keep up. There's the personal satisfaction and what you manage to achieve in the field. So it's really a relief. We know it's a long-term job.

Annie, can I have a little idea of the context of women's conditions in your communities? What are their social roles and responsibilities like?

If you don't own a field, you can't plant a tree, so very few communities allowed women to put a tree in the ground. We can now see that women are very much involved in reforestation. This has had a major impact.

Annie Schultz looking at an inspiring quote on a wall at COP28Annie Schultz arriving at COP28 in Dubai. 


That's a great question, Nathalie. Maybe I can speak for the French context because that's where I grew up and I also grew up in a multicultural family. It's very personal, but I grew up in a family where there was a division of tasks that was mainly traditionally gendered. There were families where it was much more traditional and others where there was a bit more of this hybrid model where the woman was also responsible for the household income. In my career at the beginning, I worked for a research institute where all the leadership was female and so we had very flagrant examples of women who had both their responsibility as mothers and as non-mothers, and who were leaders in the professional field. So I don't know if that answers your question, Nathalie, but I think we've also immersed ourselves a little in these communities of women with examples of leadership who are trying to emancipate themselves, perhaps a little, from the roles traditionally allocated to women.


And the other aspect, which I think we've tried to remedy, is mainly leadership issues and questions of self-esteem and self-confidence. Last year, a training course was organised for different [women community] leaders to help them develop their skills, so that they can lead the different organisations.

How did you come to work in advocacy, and Tree Aid in particular?


Tree Aid Burkina Faso staff posing for a group photo.

Tree Aid Burkina Faso staff in Ouagadougou


Yeah, that's a great question that I ask myself too sometimes because sometimes you think ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and you answer everything except what you actually do! There's something [about advocacy] that attracts me all the time, that's like a magnet.

So I think that sense of trying to create change by mobilising people and getting them to work together towards a common action, is something that has been present in me for a very, very long time, ever since I was little. Mum always told me, when you were little, you never stopped asking ‘why, but why? But why?’ So, I think it's a mix of curiosity about why things are the way they are, and a kind of call to mobilise and take collective action to change things for the better.

Can you tell me about a woman who inspires you?


I’m going [to say] Fatou Diome, the Senegalese writer currently living in France. [She] left Senegal, married in France and was divorced because of racism. And today she's really a woman in terms of confidence, in terms of leadership and in terms of defending the right, and she could really express herself in every way, in complete freedom, by giving her opinions. She's one who really inspires me a lot by her attitude and by her career and personality.

Second person, she's a personality who has occupied a ministerial position and she's called Rosine Sori-Coulibaly. She’s one of the ladies who has occupied a strategic position for the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

She was really able to make an impact in her ministry before moving on. But she also encountered difficulties as a woman in this ministry. Not even through verbal abuse, but she stuck to her guns and made a real impact on her ministry. So, she's one who inspires me.

And the last person who inspires me is my mother. Yeah, it's my mother because, and despite all these socio-cultural burdens, despite everything, she really knew how to be a woman who was able to give and educate her children in a sense of freedom of opinion in a sense of fighting for life. So, she really inspires me. She's been called a ‘woman's man’ because she's done tasks that are usually assigned to men. So that's what I can roughly say.


Three people sitting at a table and Annie Schultz standing at an advocacy workshop.Annie at an advocacy workshop


It's hard to find one, isn't it? There are so, so many inspiring women out there. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who left us last year, was an American, a lawyer who was a member of the Supreme Court and who was absolutely crucial for the recognition of gender equality in American law. And it was partly because of her death and replacement that abortion and contraception rights in America were rolled back.

[There is also] a young Frenchwoman who wrote a book called ‘’Anaïs part en guerre’’. She's a young Parisian who left everything behind to set up on her own on a farm in Brittany and create her own tea company for herbal medicine.

And one person in my life is, the CEO of my first job in Australia, the CEO of Climate Works Australia in Melbourne, Anna Skarebek. And for me, she's a perfect example of female leadership who has really surpassed the gendered stereotypes of a leader having to have masculine characteristics, otherwise she won't be recognised for her influence. So, there you have it, a historical person, a rather well-known contemporary case study and someone in my private and professional life.


Annie, it has been really interesting to meet with you. 


It has! It's been amazing to meet and talk in this kind of way. We should do it again. Thank you for all your amazing insights! 


Thanks Annie. 


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