Esther Mbabazi

Kampala, Uganda

As a documentary photographer, Esther uses storytelling and photojournalism to address issues in her society that are often overlooked.

Her work explores changing conditions on the African continent, with a focus on the social, economic, physical and emotional aspects of daily life, especially in rural areas and for minority groups.

Esther’s work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, TIME magazine and The Observer. She is a 2018-2020 VII Photo Agency Mentee and recently became a National Geographic Explorer. In 2017, she became a Magnum Foundation Photography & Social Justice Fellow.

Women by Women gives us photographers the opportunity to feel part of our own stories and tell the stories of our own people,” she says.

Women by Women is celebrating the inspiring stories of women in the countries we work in – and the female photographers capturing those stories from behind the lens.

Learn about our work changing the lives of women and girls living in poverty, for good.

Margaret by Esther for ActionAid's Women by Women photography campaign
A portrait of Margaret at the health centre where she works

A portrait of Margaret at the health centre where she works

A portrait of Margaret at the health centre where she works

Margaret Kasolo, 57, is a nurse at the Kawaala Health Centre IV in Kampala, Uganda. She has been a midwife for 35 years and has worked with ActionAid since 2013 as a gender-based violence focal person at the hospital.

Margaret at work at the health centre

Margaret at work at the health centre

Margaret at work at the health centre

Margaret links women and girls in need of help with ActionAid-supported shelters. At the same time, ActionAid connects those in need of medical attention with Margaret at the hospital.

Margaret educates women at the Kawaala Health Centre in Kampala

Margaret educates women at the Kawaala Health Centre in Kampala

Margaret is pictured with a client in her office at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret is pictured with a client in her office at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret gives a family planning injection to a client at Kawala Health Center IV in Kampala

Margaret gives an injection to a client at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret gives a family planning injection to a client at Kawala Health Center IV in Kampala

Margaret gives an injection to a client at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret is pictured with a client in her office at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret is pictured with a client in her office at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret gives a family planning injection to a client at Kawala Health Center IV in Kampala

Margaret gives an injection to a client at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret gives a family planning injection to a client at Kawala Health Center IV in Kampala

Margaret gives an injection to a client at the Kawaala Health Centre

Margaret was inspired to become a midwife because of her mother, who was also a midwife. Her mother took care of Margaret on her own when Margaret’s father passed away.

When she leaves work at the government hospital in the evening, Margaret goes to her privately owned clinic where she attends to patients

When she leaves the health centre, Margaret goes to her privately-owned clinic where she attends to patients

When she leaves the health centre, Margaret goes to her privately-owned clinic where she attends to patients

Margaret is a survivor of violence at the hands of her former husband. She now uses her position to help other women and girls rebuild their lives after experiencing violence.

Margaret wakes up at 4am every day and prepares food

Margaret wakes up at 4am every day and prepares food

Margaret wakes up at 4am every day and prepares food

Margaret's grandchildren leave for school early morning

Margaret's grandchildren leave for school early in the morning

At home, Margaret interacts with her foster children and grandchildren

Margaret interacts with her children and grandchildren at home

Margaret's grandchildren leave for school early morning

Margaret's grandchildren leave for school early in the morning

At home, Margaret interacts with her foster children and grandchildren

Margaret interacts with her children and grandchildren at home

Margaret Kasolo's home in Lusaze, Kampala.

Margaret's home in Lusaze, Kampala

Margaret's home in Lusaze, Kampala

ActionAid UK women's photography campaign, Esther Mbabazi
ActionAid UK women's photography campaign, Esther Mbabazi

Inside 37-year-old Asiah’s home in the Wakiso district of Uganda

Inside 37-year-old Asiah’s home in the Wakiso district of Uganda

Asiah, 37, experienced years of domestic violence while raising her four children in the Wakiso district of Uganda.  

“Women must work; they have to work for their children and for themselves. Many men out there are cruel, but if you earn an income, you can fight your way out of toxic relationships." 

Asiah has been supported by ActionAid since 2013, receiving counselling, financial support and legal assistance to gain custody of her children. She rented a home for her family and opened a hair salon, investing profit in new business ventures. 

A hardworking woman of many trades, Asiah sells firewood, makes bricks for the construction of houses and rears chickens. As well as the salon, she also runs a shop.  

Now Asiah trains other girls in hairdressing skills through an ActionAid skills programme in her salon.  

“I empower them to work hard and to be empowered by themselves. From there, they go and work for themselves. If all women in Uganda can get their chance of empowerment, it can reduce domestic violence in homes.” 
ActionAid UK women's photography campaign, Asiah
ActionAid UK women's photography campaign, Asiaha at her home
ActionAid's photographic campaign: Asiah's daughter at her home in Uganda

Asiah’s daughter, pictured, works in her mother’s salon during her school holidays ahead of her enrolment at university later this year

Asiah’s daughter, pictured, works in her mother’s salon during her school holidays ahead of her enrolment at university later this year

"All I want is to be a strong pillar for my children.

"I want them to learn that you do not have to depend on someone – you have to work for your own freedom and success."

ActionAid Women by Women: Asiah at her home in Uganda

Asiah climbs the ladders to the rooftop of her house where she rears chickens

Asiah climbs the ladders to the rooftop of her house where she rears chickens

ActionAid's photographic campaign: Cossy photographed by Esther
In colour, Cossy photographed by Esther for ActionAid's women's photography

Cossy, 40, is the chair of her local community in Kampala, Uganda. She was asked by her neighbours to represent them after helping many local women in the community.  

Years ago, Cossy was badly beaten by her husband after medical tests showed they were both HIV positive. When he passed away, Cossy sought treatment and further support from ActionAid’s local partner, the Makerere Women’s Development Association.  

“If ActionAid had not come, I would have died.”  

Cossy received training in hairdressing and handicrafts, as well as start-up capital to build her own business. With 200,000 Ugandan Shillings (£40), Cossy bought the materials she needed to run her shop and hair salon. The salon has now been operating for 16 years. 

“I have been trained in many areas. I was trained to represent myself as a woman.” 

Cossy also works as a facilitator in her local women’s network, called God’s Grace. She trains single women in hairdressing skills and every Saturday she invites women to weave baskets and sell them in her shop.  

ActionAid women's photography: Cossy at her home in Uganda

A portrait of Cossy at her beauty salon, which she has operated for 16 years

A portrait of Cossy at her beauty salon, which she has operated for 16 years

Basket weaving in Uganda as part of ActionAid's women's photography campaign

Cossy and her fellow women’s network members make items like baskets and doormats, as well as jewellery

Campaign poster in Uganda, shot for ActionAid's women's photography campaign

A campaign poster from when Cossy stood to be the chair of her community

Women's network in Uganda, shot for ActionAid's women's photography campaign

Members of the God's Grace women’s network weave baskets at Cossy’s salon in Kampala

Cossy and her fellow women’s network members make items like baskets and doormats, as well as jewellery

A campaign poster from when Cossy stood to be the chair of her community

Members of the God's Grace women’s network weave baskets at Cossy’s salon in Kampala

Women's network in Uganda, shot for ActionAid's women's photography campaign

Cossy started working with ActionAid in 2005, through an organisation called the Makerere Women's Development Association (MAWDA)

Cossy started working with ActionAid in 2005, through an organisation called the Makerere Women's Development Association (MAWDA)

Nabuule shot by Esther for Women by Women
In colour, Nabuule shot by Esther for Women by Women photography

Nabuule Shaliwa, 54, is a counsellor for women and girls living with HIV in a poor neighbourhood in Kampala, where she grew up.  

A survivor of violence, Nabuule sought help from ActionAid’s partner, Tusitukirewamu, which translates to ‘Let's rise together’.

 

A portrait of Nabuule (54) at her home

A portrait of Nabuule (54) at her home

Through ActionAid’s partner, Nabuule learned how to make reusable sanitary pads. She sells them at affordable prices to women and girls in rural areas, where accessing sanitary pads can be a challenge. She now trains others to make them too.

Among her many business ventures, Nabuule makes liquid soap that she sells to schools and neighbours. "I have paid school fees for some of my children through [selling] jerrycans of liquid soap!" She also works with her teenage sons to make and sell doormats.

Nabuule shot for ActionAid's women's photography campaign

A portrait of Nabuule at the Tusitukirewamu office in Kampala, where she works as a counsellor for women and girls living with HIV

A portrait of Nabuule at the Tusitukirewamu office in Kampala, where she works as a counsellor for women and girls living with HIV

Nabuule at her home in Uganda, ActionAid women's photography

Nabuule counsels a woman in her community

Preventing violence against women and girls

Stickers at Tusitukirewamu, a community organisation where Nabuule works as a counsellor

Reusable sanitary pads, part of ActionAid's women's photography campaign

The reusable sanitary pads that Nabuule makes at her home. She sells a pair at 15,000 (£3.05), making them affordable for many local women and girls

Nabuule counsels a woman in her community

Stickers at Tusitukirewamu, a community organisation where Nabuule works as a counsellor

The reusable sanitary pads that Nabuule makes at her home. She sells a pair at 15,000 (£3.05), making them affordable for many local women and girls

In Uganda, more than half of women who have been married report experiencing physical, sexual or emotional violence at the hands of their current or most recent partner.

ActionAid is helping survivors to access justice for crimes against them and gain financial independence. In turn, these women are empowering other women and girls in their communities.