These radiant portraits show women as they want to be seen

These radiant portraits show women as they want to be seen

Published December 1, 2022

6 min read

For several years, “fly on the wall” was Esther Ruth Mbabazi’s approach to photography. Be invisible. Do not influence the scene. Then, in 2019, the 28-year-old Ugandan had an opportunity to do just the opposite.

That’s when Mbabazi learned of the Gulu Women With Disabilities Union, a vocational and social center in a small city in Uganda’s north. She traveled to Gulu four times in a year and photographed four women she met. They posed in custom-made dresses by a Kampala-based designer against backgrounds of art and handiwork that they had created. Mbabazi asked them how they wanted to be perceived. They replied that they were capable, equal, and intelligent. Mbabazi was thus granted the dignity that Ugandans living with special needs often lack.

Mbabazi gave large, framed copies to all who took the photographs on her last trip to Gulu. Mbabazi hopes that the photos will be displayed publicly to change the way women are treated and seen by others.

The National Geographic Society has funded the work of photographer Esther Ruth Mbabazi since 2019. Learn more about its support of Explorers at

This story appears in the January 2023 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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