Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United
Nations Population Fund, the worlds largest multilateral source of
population assistance. Ms. Obaid was appointed head of UNFPA, effective
1 January 2001, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United
Nations. She is the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations
Ms. Obaid also serves as Chair of the High-level Committee on
Management of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for
Coordination (CEB). The Committee is the principal United Nations
inter-agency body for coordinating administrative and management
From 1998 to 2001, Ms. Obaid was Director, Division for Arab States
and Europe, UNFPA. Before joining UNFPA, Ms. Obaid was Deputy Executive
Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
(ESCWA) from 1993 to 1998. She was the Chief of the Social Development
and Population Division, ESCWA, from 1992 to 1993, and Social Affairs
Officer, responsible for the advancement of women, from 1975 to 1992. A
central focus of Ms. Obaids work at ESCWA and UNFPA has been to
cooperate with governments to establish programmes to empower women and
develop their capacities as citizens with rights and responsibilities.
She has also worked with womens non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
to advocate for womens equality.
In 1975, Ms. Obaid established the first women’s development
programme in Western Asia. The programme helped build partnerships on
womens issues between the United Nations and regional NGOs. Ms. Obaid
chaired the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Gender in Amman,
Jordan, in 1996. In November 1997, she was a member of the United
Nations Inter-Agency Gender Mission to Afghanistan. Between 1984 and
1985, she was a member of the League of Arab States Working Group for
Formulating the Arab Strategy for Social Development.
In 1963, Ms. Obaid became the first Saudi Arabian woman to receive a
government scholarship to study at a university in the United States.
She has a doctorate degree in English Literature and Cultural
Anthropology from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. She is a
member of the Middle East Studies Association and of Al-Nahdha Womens
Philanthropic Association, a Saudi NGO.
Throughout her career, Ms. Obaid has emphasized the importance of
development that emerges from the context of each society, taking into
consideration the cultural values and religious beliefs that shape
people and affect their actions. As UNFPA Executive Director, she has
introduced a special focus on culture and religion in the Funds
development work, thereby linking universal values of human rights to
values of the human worth promoted by all religions and found in all
Ms. Obaid has received many awards and honours. She is married and has two daughters.