Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

Former UNFPA Executive Director, UN Under-Secretary-General

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid was appointed as Executive Director of UNFPA on 1 January 2001, making her the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations agency.

Ms. Obaid had a long and distinguished career at the United Nations. She worked for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from 1975 to 1998, where she rose to the rank of Deputy Executive Secretary. In 1998, she moved to UNFPA as Director of the then-Division for Arab States and Europe, occupying that position until 2001, when she became Executive Director, a post she held through 2010.

Ms. Obaid is the first Saudi Arabian woman to receive a government scholarship to a university in the United States, in 1963. She has a doctorate degree in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.

Ms. Obaid has received many awards and honours. She was ranked among the 50 Most Powerful Arab Women by Forbes magazine in 2004. She is also profiled as one of 100 Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture in Notable Muslims, a book published in Oxford, England, in 2006.

Throughout her career, Ms. Obaid has championed the causes of women's and young people's health and empowerment. Her work focuses on supporting governments to establish programmes to empower women and develop their capacities as citizens with rights and responsibilities. She has also emphasized the importance of promoting development through a culturally sensitive approach, working within the context of each society, and taking into consideration cultural values and religious beliefs that shape people and affect their actions. As UNFPA Executive Director, she introduced a focus on culture to the Fund's development work, linking gender, universal values of human rights and values of the human worth promoted by all religions and found in all cultures.

Ms. Obaid is married and has two daughters.


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