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01. April 2004

Thoraya Obaid

Thoraya Obaid - An Impressive Woman Visiting in Vienna

April 1st 2004

Thoraya Obaid is the managing director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, since January 1st 2001. She is the first Saudi-Arabian woman who was appointed head of a UN office.

Before, she was active for ESWA, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Her cooperation with governments in order to create programs that empower women, broaden their capacities as citizens, award them rights and responsibility and her work with women's NGOs for the equality of women and men, are some of the points that Thoraya Obaid emphasizes in her work.
She was the first Saudi-Arabian woman to receive a government scholarship in 1963 in order to study in the U.S.A. She is a member of the Middle East Studies Association and the Al Nahdha Women´s Philantrophic Association.
In 1975, this prominent literature scientist and cultural anthropologist created the first development program for women in West Asia that has contributed a great deal to establishing partnerships between regional NGOs and the USA. Thoraya Obaid has received numerous awards and honorable mentions for her dedication to a dialogue between culture and religion and her work in peace and development politics.

Upon an invitation by the World Population Fund, she presented her work for Vienna NGOs on April 1st 2004. Women without Borders were present.

How do the life and sexuality of adolescents fit together with cultural and religious paradigms and ideologies?

The work of UNFPA is basically divided into two main sectors: population policy and reproductive health. In cooperation with governments, programs should be created that expand the capacities of the countries and therefore contribute to enhancing the general living situation, especially that of women. Special focus is on work with adolescents. This focus on young people is so important because 60 percent of the world's population are under the age of 24. Gender based work is in the foreground - empowering young women, establishing a support system, campaigns against HIV/Aids, family planning, etc.
The program "Culture, Gender and Human Rights" is aimed at building a bridge between culture and human rights. "The positive elements of a culture can always be used to support human rights," is Thoraya Obaid's working motto.
In areas such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it is especially important to be considerate of the cultural background of each country. Today, the fact that girls are robbed of their liberty rights and are disempowered by the act of circumcision, receives more attention than the life-threatening aspects of FGM. Nowadays, circumcisions are performed by doctors in many cases, fatalities and bleeding are not as common anymore, Obaid explains her view on the subject.
She points out that it is very complicated for European organizations to provide educating work concerning FGM. "Africans call FGM circumcision because mutilation is a judging opinion. So if we call it mutilation, we offend them. We cannot just support the girls that are supposed to be circumcised and make them rebel. We also have to support the parents and help them understand. For if one helps the girls rebel, it can have drastic concequences, then they are neither Europeans nor Africans, they are banished from their families."
Aside from preventive work - counseling for women, condom programs, responsibility programs for men - another focus is on the cooperation and education of religious leaders. "I am not speaking of radicals, that is another story, I mean the ones who are in direct contact with the people. They convey credibility, have access to the people, and people trust and believe them."

US government ends funding

Since George W. Bush has been president, UNFPA does not receive financial support from the U.S.A. anymore, despite the fact that they used to be the biggest supporter. European establishments that value the work of UNFPA contribute a lot so that its work can continue.
"We are a small, voluntary fund. And even if many say that we are small, then I say that we are bigger than all the others because we work through and with other organizations."
The number of contributing countries has risen from 92 in 2001 to 149 in 2003. "Many developing countries are among them and that is a definite statement to the president that developing countries support the Cairo Agreement."

(At the International Conference on Population and Development of the United Nations 1994 in Cairo, an action program was approved that determined new guidelines for international population policy in the next 20 years. Family planning methods, education as protection against HIV/Aids as well as medical care concerning pregnancy and birth are some of the focuses. Cairo presented a decisive turning point: Population policy now focuses in the concrete needs of the people - especially those of women).

 
 

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