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Associate professor in Medical Anthropology

Adresse visiteur

Laboratoire d'Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains
Avenue Jeanne, 44
Bâtiment S
Bureau S12.103
1050 Bruxelles

Adresse courrier

Université libre de Bruxelles
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 50 - CP 124
1050 Bruxelles

0032 (0)2 650 43 37

Obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2013. Her PhD research was concerned with local people’s opposition to the national ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Fouta Toro, northern Senegal. The thesis was awarded the Audrey Richards Prize of the African Studies Association of the UK in 2014. 

Between 2013 and 2017 she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. Research collaborations were concerned with malaria clinical trials and research ethics, health-seeking behaviour and neonatal health at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia and on intra-vaginal practices and reproductive health in Tanzania. She was also the PI of the qualitative part of a study looking at African men’s involvement in FGM/C in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK (Men Speak Out) funded by Daphne. In 2014 she obtained a SOFI grant from the Flemish Ministry for Science and Technology for a 3 year interdisciplinary study aiming to contribute to the identification of the cause of Nodding Syndrome/Epilepsy (Cameroon, Tanzania and Uganda). 

In 2015-2016 she was a Visiting Scholar at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford.

Between 2017 and 2021 she worked as a consultant on FGM/C for the World Health Organization (WHO) and for the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). 

In 2018 she started working as a lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) teaching ethnographic methods, research design and medical anthropology in anthropology at the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences and Qualitative Methods and Contextual Factors at the School of Public Health.

Between 2019 and 2022 she held a gendernet funded postdoc position at the School of Public Health-ULB, to work on the health systems response to female genital cutting with partners in Canada, France, Sweden and Switzerland. 

In 2022 she was a Visiting Professor at the Anthropology Department of the University of Toronto, Canada.

Since 2022 she holds an Associate Professor position Medical Anthropology and a FEDtWIN position between LAMC-ULB and the Royal Museum of Central Africa (Tervuren) to work on the anthropology of food. 

Domaines d'intérêt

My research centers on transformations and modifications of the body through different forms of intervention – customary and biomedical – in response to social norms, expectations or public health recommendations. I am interested in what happens to the body when persons refuse to comply by choosing or refusing to modify their body ; to undergo biomedical procedures when recommended ; to ingest substances ; to deny care.

I have extensively worked on Female Genital Cutting in Africa and among the African diaspora in Europe.  My PhD research in Senegal focused on resistance to interventions targeting the abandonment of the FGC. I focused on the refusal to comply with development and public health programmes and alternative narratives on self-improvement, health and well-being. I am interested in how governmental and non-governmental development, human rights and health recommendations are understood as forms of cultural colonialism or Western imperialism.

Between 2017 and 2020 I was able to follow the weekly consultations at CeMaViE, a FGM specialist clinic in Brussels with the aim of understanding what motivates women to request clitoral reconstructive surgery. The theoretical enquiries I am engaged in based on this fieldwork explore how the body and sex are gendered through surgical procedures and how conflicting notions of normality, pleasure, sexuality and trauma underpin conceptions of womanhood and belonging. I am interested in how desires to change the body emerge in response to stigma, changing social norms and migration experiences.
Other work in public health has been concerned with tropical diseases and socio-cultural and political aspects of their prevention and treatment. Recurring themes were health-seeking behaviour, stigma and gender violence in various African countries. I have worked on malaria, neo-natal mortality, Nodding Syndrome (epilepsy) in onchocerciasis endemic areas, sexually transmitted infections and intra-vaginal practices. Based on research undertaken for medical research institutions and clinical trials some of my publications have engaged with research ethics, vulnerability, autonomy and decision-making and notions of well-being. 

In the Diaspofood project I engage in the anthropology of food between Central Africa and Brussels addressing themes like belonging, transmission, gender, health and the environment in post-colonial contexts. I am interested in the production of selves and Others through the consumption of food and the ways in which socio- economic and political processes are reflected, enacted and experienced through food choices. 

Informations secrétariat

Permanence : le jeudi de 13h à 15h

Présentation des enseignements
Présentation des recherches

Thèse supervisée :

Dounia Largo (doctorante FRESH) (en co-promotion avec Asuncion Fresnoza)

Rapports de genre, travail productif et émancipation féminine : les travailleuses d'huile d'argan de l'Ouest du Maroc

Travaux sélectionnés



  • Onyeze-Joe, C., O'Neill, S., & Godin, I. (2022). Redefining Fatherhood in a Migratory Context: A Narrative Inquiry into the Experiences of African First-time Fathers in Belgium. American Journal of Men's Health, 16(5), 10. doi:10.1177%2F15579883221110355 
  • Balde, M. D., Soumah, A. M., Diallo, A., Sall, A. O., Mochache, V., Ahmed, W., Toure, A. O., Diallo, R., Camara, S., O'Neill, S., & Pallitto, C. C. (2022). Involving the health sector in the prevention and care of female genital mutilation: results from formative research in Guinea. Reproductive health, 19(1). doi:10.1186/s12978-022-01428-4 
  • Irani, J., Rujumba, J., Mwaka, A. D., Arach, J., Lanyuru, D., Idro, R., Colebunders, R., Gerrets, R., Peeters Grietens, K., & O'Neill, S. (2022). ‘There Were Moments We Wished She Could Just Die’: The Highly Gendered Burden of Nodding Syndrome in Northern Uganda. Qualitative health research, 104973232210859. doi:10.1177/10497323221085941 
  • Sarah O’Neill, Fabienne Richard, Cendrine Vanderhoven & Martin Caillet (2021) Pleasure, womanhood and the desire for reconstructive surgery after female genital cutting in Belgium, Anthropology & Medicine, DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2021.1994332                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Sarah O’Neill & Christina Pallitto  (2021) “The Consequences of Female Genital Mutilation on Psycho-Social Well-Being: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research” Qualitative Health Research
  • Balde MD, O’Neill S, Sall AO, Balde MB, Soumah AM, Diallo B, et al. (2021) Attitudes of health care providers regarding female genital mutilation and its medicalization in Guinea. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0249998. journal.pone.0249998 
  • Ronse, M, Irani, J, Gryseels, C, Smekens, T, Ekukole, S, Teh Monteh, C, Tatah Ntaimah, P, Dierickx, S, Verdonck, K, Colebunders, R, Njamnshi, AK, O'Neill, S & Peeters Grietens, K (2021), 'In pursuit of a cure: the plural therapeutic landscape of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy in Cameroon - a mixed methods study', PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, vol. 15, no. 2, e0009206.
  • O’Neill S. l, Bader, D. Kraus C,  Godin I, Abdulcadir J, Alexander S  (2020) “Rethinking the Anti-FGM Zero Tolerance Policy: from Intellectual Concerns to Empirical Challenges” Current Sexual Health Reports 12:266–275 DOI: 10.1007/s11930-020-00299-9         


  • O’Neill S. & Godin I. (2020)  “Key informants in socio-epidemiology: advantages and pitfalls” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology           


  • O’Neill S. (2020) “En quête de reconstruction identitaire” Santé conjuguée I mars 2020 I n° 90                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  • Agboli S, Botbol M, O’Neill S, Richard F, Ajoulat I (2020) “Transforming Vulnerability into Power: Exploring Empowerment among Women with Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in the Context of Migration in Belgium.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, DOI: 10.1080/19452829.2019.1661981                                                                                                                                                       
  •  Brussels Collaboration on Bodily Integrity (2019) “Medically Unnecessary Genital Cutting and the Rights of the Child: Moving Toward Consensus” The American Journal of Bioethics 19(10):17-28 DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2019.1643945                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  • Irani J, Rujumba J , Mwaka A D, Arach J,  Lanyuru D, Idro R, Gerrets R, Peeters Grietens K, O’Neill S (2019) "Those who died are the ones that are cured". Walking the political tightrope of Nodding Syndrome in northern Uganda: Emerging challenges for research and policy. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 13(6): e0007344.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  • O’Neill S. Irani J. Siewe Fodjo J. Nono D. Abbo C. Sato Y. Mugarura A, Dolo H. Ronse M. Njamnshi A. K. Colebunders R. (2019) Stigma and epilepsy in onchocerciasis- endemic regions in Africa : a review and recommendations from the onchocerciasis- associated epilepsy working group. Infectious Diseases of Poverty (2019) 8:34     


  • O’Neill S. (2018) Purity, cleanliness and smell – female circumcision, embodiment and discourses among midwives and excisers in Fouta Toro, Senegal. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 24 (4)    


  • Caillet M, O’Neill S, Minsart A F, Richard F (2018) Addressing FGM with multidisciplinary care. The experience of French speaking Belgium. Current Sexual Health Reports                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Dierickx S, O’Neill S, Gryseels C Anyango E, Bannister-Tyrrell M, Okebe J, Mwesigwa J, Jaiteh F, Gerrets R, Ravinetto R, D’Alessandro U, Peeters Grietens K (2017) Community sensitization and decision-making for trial participation : a mixed-methods study from The Gambia. Developing World Bioethics DOI : 10.1111/dewb.12160                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • O’Neill S, Dubourg D, Florquin S, Bos M, Zewolde S, Richard F (2017) “Men have a role to play but they don’t play it” : A mixed methods study exploring men’s involvement in Female Genital Mutilation in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Report 2017.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • O‘Neill S, Clarke E, Peeters Grietens K (2016) How to protect your new-born from neonatal death : Infant feeding and medical practices in the Gambia. Women’s Studies International Forum 60 (2017) 136–143.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  • O’Neill S, Dierickx S, Okebe J, Dabira E, Gryseels C, d’Alessandro U, et al. (2016) The Importance of Blood Is Infinite : Conceptions of Blood as Life Force, Rumours and Fear of Trial Participation in a Fulani Village in Rural Gambia. PLoS ONE 11(8):e0160464. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160464       


  • Jaiteh F, Dierickx S, Gryseels C, O’Neill S, D’Alessandro U, Scott S, Balen J, Peeters Grietens K (2016) ‘Some anti-malarials are too strong for your body, they will harm you.’ Socio-cultural factors influencing pregnant women’s adherence to anti-malarial treatment in rural Gambia. Malaria Journal 2016 15:195 DOI:10.1186/s12936-016-1255-0       


  • Dierickx S, Gryseels C, Mwesigwa J, O’Neill S, Bannister-Tyrell M, Ronse M, et al. (2016) Factors Associated with Non-Participation and Non-Adherence in Directly Observed Mass Drug Administration for Malaria in The Gambia. PLoS One [Internet]. 2016 ;11(2):e0148627. Available from :   


  • O’Neill S, Gryseels C, Dierickx S, Mwesigwa J, Okebe J, d’Alessandro U, Peeters Grietens K. (2015) Foul wind, spirits and witchcraft : illness conceptions and health-seeking behaviour for malaria in the Gambia. Malaria Journal (2015) 14:167 DOI 10.1186/s12936-015-0687-2                                               


  • Peeters Grietens K, Muela Ribera J, Erhart A, Hoibak S, Ravinetto R, Gryseels C, Dierickx S, O’Neill S, Hausmann Muela S, D’Alessandro U. (2014) Doctors and Vampires in Sub-Saharan Africa : Ethical Challenges in Clinical Trial Research. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 91(2), 213–5. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.13-0630

Publications non anthropologiques :

  • Hendy, A., Krit, M., Pfarr, K., Laemmer, C., De Witte, J., Nwane, P., Kamgno, J., Nana- Djeunga, H. C., Boussinesq, M., Dujardin, J.-C., Post, R. J., Colebunders, R., O'Neill, S., Enyong, P., & Kongnyu Njamnshi, A. (2021). Onchocerca volvulus transmission in the Mbam valley of Cameroon following 16 years of annual community-directed treatment with ivermectin, and the description of a new cytotype of Simulium squamosum. Parasites and Vectors, 14(1), 563. doi:10.1186/s13071-021-05072-y
  • Hendy A, Krüger A, Pfarr K, De Witte J, Kibweja A, Mwingira U, Dujardin JC, Post R, Colebunders R, O’Neill S, Kalinga A. The blackfly vectors and transmission of Onchocerca volvulus in Mahenge, south eastern Tanzania. Acta Trop. 2018 May ;181:50-59. doi : 10.1016/j.actatropica.2018.01.009. Epub 2018 Feb 2.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • Colebunders R, Mandro M, Njamnshi A, Boussinesq M, Hotterbeekx A, Kamgno J, O’Neill S, Hopkins A, Basanez MG, Post R, Pedrique B, Preux PM, Stolk W, Nutman T, Idro R (2018) Report of the first international workshop on onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy. Journal of Infectious Diseases and Poverty7(1):23                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Richard F. et al (2017) Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting : sharing data and experiences to accelerate eradication and improve care : part 2 Reproductive Health2017 14(Suppl2): 115                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Colebunders R, Post R, O’Neill S, Haesaert G, Opar B, LakwoT, Laudisoit A, Hendy A. Nodding syndrome since 2012 : recent progress, challenges and recommendations for future research. Trop Med Int Health. 2014 Oct 28. doi : 10.1111/tmi.12421.