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11 Portraits That Show How Women Rule In Rwanda

Over half of the seats in parliament are held by women, and that's just the start.

Posted on April 17, 2018, at 5:16 a.m. ET

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Women work on restoring houses in the village Rusheshe for Women for Women International, an NGO.

When Italian photographer Gianmarco Maraviglia put together a portrait series of women in Rwanda, he set out to examine the incredible power of the human spirit after tragedy and how a society can remake itself dramatically.

"I decided to make this story when I read that Rwanda is the country with the highest number of females in the parliament," Maraviglia told BuzzFeed News. "It was just one line, but I understood the incredible potential of this issue. I'm always interested in story that are consequences of something, and this was a direct consequence of the genocide."

The high rate of women in parliament does stem from the carnage of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which left an estimated more than half a million people dead. After he was elected in 2000, Rwandan President Paul Kagame mandated that 30% of the parliament be made up of women and the decision adopted formally in 2003. Today, 64% of seats are held by women.

Nearly 25 years after the genocide, Rwanda is among the fastest-growing economies in Africa and — though there are concerns that Kagame is stifling political opposition against him — the status of women in the parliament is reflected in other parts of society.

"Rwanda is often considered the Switzerland of Africa, and if we think that there are women in all the key positions, we have to say that they are doing really great in managing their country," Maraviglia said.

"All those people faced incredible pain in their life; in '94 there happened something that we cannot really understand," Maraviglia said.

"The most surprising thing has been to realize how wide and real was this change has been. Women are really in all aspects of society, in high position, and they are totally aware of their role. There is pride in all of them."

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Mukasarasi Godelieve, founder of Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), which works to rebuild the human relationships that were destroyed during the genocide in Rwanda.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Fiona Mbabazi, news anchor and producer at Rwanda Broadcasting Agency

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Inside the Rwandan parliament, where more than half of the seats are held by women.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Josette Komezusenge is the managing director and founder of the six Maza Saloon beauty salons around the country. She focuses on natural hair and beauty treatments for women.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Esther Mbabazi is the first woman to become certified as a commercial airline pilot in Rwanda.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Sonia Mugabo in her shop inside the Marriott hotel in Kigali. Sonia Mugabo (SM) is a Rwandan fashion brand, with two collections presented each year and a bespoke division.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Joan Mazimhaka is the cofounder at Illume Creative Studio, a strategic communications agency that develops the tools to help other storytellers.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

Hope Azeda is one of the leading figures in contemporary Rwandan theatre. She is the founder and artistic director of Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts.

Gianmarco Maraviglia

The Akilah Institute is a nonprofit college for women in Kigali, Rwanda. It is the first college for women in the country. The institute offers three-year diplomas in entrepreneurship, hospitality management, and information systems. The curriculum is designed in partnership with local employers and the Rwandan government. The institute has a 93% retention rate, and 88% of graduates find jobs within six months of graduation.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.