The educator

Omayma el Tahir has dedicated her life to campaigning against female genital cutting. The Sudanese woman, who has been living in Switzerland since 2003, is tackling the issue on all fronts as a peer educator – in schools and communities, at dedicated meetings, and most recently in federal asylum centres.

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Omayma el Tahir

Self-confident and stylish, Omayma el Tahir poses for the photographer. You immediately notice that this is not the first time she has stood in front of a camera. She exudes persuasive power and knows what her mission is – after all, she has been pursuing it all of her life. Although she is not laughing in the photos ‒ the subject matter is too serious for that ‒ Omayma is, in fact, a cheery person and someone who has never allowed herself to be distracted from her calling.

Female genital cutting in young girls is a taboo subject in many places. Even in Switzerland and the rest of Europe, it is difficult to confront affected families with the issue and use arguments to persuade them against the practice. Although it has been prohibited by law since 2012 in Switzerland, there are 22,000 potentially vulnerable or affected women living in this country ‒ for Omayma, who lives in Biel, every victim is one too many.

The frontline activist was herself subjected to female genital cutting as a five-year-old girl in Sudan. She was involved in campaigning against the practice even while still living in her native country. From her point of view, the most important thing is to educate people about the issue, whether here in Switzerland, Sudan, Eritrea or Egypt – it does not matter where – the main thing is to discuss it openly. Because as Omayma knows, it is often the grandmothers or aunts who decide whether girls are subjected to female genital cutting, a tradition that must be countered.

One of the most notable facts about female genital cutting is that it is not carried out due to any religious requirements – it has its origins in history. Contrary to many preconceptions, Islam has nothing to do with this ritual. It is also regularly practised by Christians and other religious communities.


Omayma has been campaigning against female genital cutting on all fronts since 2006. She organises courses and is involved in schools – together with cantonal offices, lawyers, and especially with the Network against Female Genital Cutting Switzerland organisation (see info box). Peer educators like Omayma have also recently started collaborating with the State Secretariat for Migration.

In many cultures, men are the ones who say what goes ‒ but when it comes to female genital cutting, it is the women who dominate and decide that their daughters should undergo this practice. The issue is simply swept under the table in many communities, which is a major problem. Women rarely discuss it with their husbands; rather they are the ones who determine whether the family tradition is continued or not.

For Omayma, it is first and foremost about being able to gain a foothold in the communities and families as a peer educator. She informs them about their rights in round-table discussions as part of the national project Femmes-Tische and Männer-Tische (, and tries to open doors, broach the subject and gain the trust of those affected with the support of various institutions. Communication here is key, especially if someone can talk about the subject in their own language, which is a huge advantage. Omayma deliberately sits down at a table with four women from different cultural backgrounds, because it is more likely that they will then dare to debate the issue. Fortunately, men from Eritrea and Ethiopia are now also involved in the network against female genital cutting, which is making the issue increasingly more visible.

The photo shoot over, a smile flits across Omayma's face. It is a smile of confidence. She strides away untiringly, disappearing into the streets of Biel to continue standing up against an injustice that should not be ‒ a goal to which she has dedicated her life.


Omayma el Tahir was born in Sudan. She works as a peer educator on behalf of the Network against Female Genital Cutting Switzerland campaigning against the practice in Switzerland, including more recently in the federal asylum centres. She is also involved in various volunteer projects such as SOS futures mamans ( and and works part-time as a secretary in Brügg near Biel. She is the mother of five children. Most of her family lives by the Red Sea in Egypt.

Fighting female genital cutting

Caritas Switzerland's work on preventing female genital cutting has been largely funded by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) since the founding of its national advice centre in 2006. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) joined as a partner in 2010. The Network against Female Cutting Switzerland, which is supported by the organisations Caritas Switzerland, SEXUAL HEALTH Switzerland and the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights, was founded in 2016 and is also funded by SEM and the FOPH. The network’s goal is to protect girls and women at risk from female genital cutting and provide medical care to those affected.

UNICEF estimates that more than 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital cutting and it is believed there are three million new cases each year, mostly in babies and infants. Female genital cutting is practised in western, eastern and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some Asian countries and in the Middle East.

According to estimates by the FOPH, there are 22,000 women and girls living in Switzerland who come from regions where female genital cutting is practised. They have either already undergone the practice or are directly threatened with being subjected to this ritual.

Male and female peer educators from the communities involved open up access to the target group for prevention work to begin. They are then responsible for defining the content of events, writing and distributing invitations, motivating people to attend, and introducing and facilitating these events.