Thoraya Ahmed Obaid is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the world’s 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 agency.
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. Obaid’s 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 women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to advocate for women’s equality.
In 1975, Ms. Obaid established the first women’s development programme in Western Asia. The programme helped build partnerships on women’s 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 Women’s 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 Fund’s development work, thereby linking universal values of human rights to values of the human worth promoted by all religions and found in all cultures.
Ms. Obaid has received many awards and honours. She is married and has two daughters.