Farewell to Thoraya Obaid

02 Sep 2010

UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board
New York

It is a privilege for me today to speak at this farewell session of our Executive Board in honour of Thoraya Obaid.

Earlier this week Thoraya made her last formal statement to the Board as UNFPA’s Executive Director.

In that statement, Thoraya reflected on her ten years at the helm, the challenges she had faced, and the progress she has seen UNFPA make.

Many delegations responded with words of thanks and praise for Thoraya’s work, and for UNFPA’s achievements under her leadership.

It is abundantly clear that Thoraya is held in the highest regard across the international community for her dedicated service to the United Nations.  She has served with distinction at first the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and then at UNFPA from the time she graduated with her PhD in the mid 1970s.

Thoraya’s personal journey has been an extraordinary one, driven by her parent’s dedication to her education, her own commitment to make the most of the opportunities afforded to her, and then her determination to put her skills and talents at the service of others.

I first met Thoraya when she called on me in my prime ministerial office in New Zealand.  In all truth, such official calls are often quickly forgotten – but never one from Thoraya.  Her passion for her work, her humanity, and her tireless advocacy for women and children made a deep impression on me, as they have on countless others.

When I came to New York last year to my current position as UNDP Administrator and Chair of the UN Development Group, I was welcomed with open arms by Thoraya.  No one has been more committed than she has been to supporting closer co-ordination across the UN’s development system, and I have relied on her support a great deal.

In turn I have done my best to ensure that UNDP supports the critical work of Thoraya and UNFPA on gender empowerment, promotion of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and population and development strategies.

These are not issues which are embraced universally with enthusiasm.  Yet Thoraya has been courageous in her steadfast advocacy for them, and in building dialogue with diverse constituencies and stakeholders.  She has become the public face of the crusade for wanted and safe pregnancy and childbirth, and for all women and girls to be treated with respect.

Today, therefore, and in the weeks to come it is with a great sense of sadness that we are farewelling Thoraya from UNFPA and from her UN career.  She has done so much for so many that it is impossible to encapsulate her service in a few short words.  She has been an incredible and supportive colleague to us all.

It remains for me, Thoraya, to say simply thank you, and on behalf of UNDP to wish you a happy retirement with your husband and your family.