The 'Salt Queen' working to transform the health of a nation

Updated 12:04 PM ET, Fri February 15, 2019

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CNN is committed to covering gender inequality wherever it occurs in the world. This story is part of As Equals, an ongoing series.

Fatick, Senegal — Marie Diouf, 35, is on her cellphone speaking swiftly in Wolof, a lyrical Senegalese language, as salt flies past her.
Dressed in a red boubou, a long traditional robe, Diouf cuts a striking figure in an otherwise muted landscape encrusted in white. As the sun sets, casting an orange hue over the salt flats of Fatick, in southwestern Senegal, Diouf stands, hand on hip, surveying a group of sinewy young men chipping away at a hardened, crystallized mound.
"When I saw other men who had their own land I thought, 'why not me?'" Diouf said, gesturing across the expansive plains, dotted with ancient baobab trees. In the distance, tucked away in fields of dry maize, is her village Ndiemou, which means "Salt" in the local Serer language.
When Senegal privatized land in the area in 2000, Diouf became the first woman to invest. It was a bold move in the west African country, where women have limited access to property despite providing the vast majority of agricultural labor. During the high harvesting season, from February to April, the salt flats are scattered with hundreds of women toiling away in over 40 degrees Celsius (100 degree Fahrenheit), scooping the crystalline mineral into baskets later carried aloft on their heads. But they're not necessarily the ones to benefit financially from the production.
Diouf walks along the edge of irrigation pools at her salt flat in Fatick. In the coming months, the water will evaporate, leaving salt behind.