Women undertaking research in the Middle East must be especially alert

April 27, 2007

For a female researcher doing fieldwork in the Middle East one of the most difficult things is finding a suitable place to stay, says Zahia Salhi (right), head of the department of Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Leeds University.

Algerian-born Dr Salhi, a specialist in comparative literature and gender issues, said that while a male researcher could easily find a flat, this would be impossible in many areas for a woman.

A good hotel might be too expensive, while a bad one could be uncomfortable, with the added risk of being pestered.

"And if you stay in a hotel, after two or three days, people will start watching your movements. They will try to identify who you are, if you are a woman of good background or a bad woman," she said.

In an institution, female researchers would be treated the same as a male, she said, but travelling around for fieldwork could be a problem. Dr Salhi said she was careful to take public transport rather than a private taxi for any journey, ensuring that she was surrounded by other people. She also wore modest clothing and very little make-up.

"What you wear is very important. And be careful who you speak to - don't socialise too much in hotels with waiters," she said.

Young men may be seeking a way of getting out of their country of origin and might see a woman as a means of getting a visa, she warned.

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