United Nations Population Fund
Culture & Society
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid was appointed head of the United Nations Population Fund in January 2001, becoming the first Saudi Arabian female to be named head of a United Nations agency.
It wasn’t the first time Obaid had made headlines - she was also the first Saudi woman to receive a government scholarship to study at an American university in 1963.
Following on from a doctorate in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology at Wayne State University, and prior to her joining the United Nations, Obaid was deputy executive secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. This was followed by a stint as chief of the Social Development and Population Division, ESCWA and Social Affairs Officer.
Working with governments to establish programmes to empower women has always been a central part of Obaid’s work. As United Nations Population Fund executive director, she has introduced a special focus on culture and religion in the fund’s development work.