This Q&A was conducted by the Cornell University Graduate School and first appeared on its website.
Sharifa Sultana is a doctoral candidate in information science from Jessore, Bangladesh. After earning a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, she chose to pursue further study at Cornell for the information science program and campus. Sultana recently received an honorable mention for a CHI 2021 paper.
What is your area of research and why is it important?
My work looks into ways to support sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the United Nations. Being a person in the tech domain, I am interested in understanding the well-being challenges faced by the marginalized populations in developing countries and designing culturally appropriate technologies that match their social values and norms and address their needs. In my work, I engage with rural Bangladeshi women through observation, discussion, and co-design sessions and explore ways to address the gender inequality and well-being challenges faced by them.
My work builds on social science, political philosophy, and development theories and practices and aims at making the world better for the marginalized populations in developing countries. The agenda of my research is to contribute to designing technologies for sustainable social development and community empowerment. Also, the findings of my fieldwork with rural communities in Bangladesh present those in academia and industry and policymakers a new perspective of the villagers toward the technologies and development programs designed for them. This helps the domains advance further and the communities to achieve sustainable development.
You received an honorable mention for a CHI 2021 paper. Can you tell us about the paper and the Unmochon project?
Like many other developing countries with significant gender inequality, Bangladesh is also troubled with gender harassment issues. In this work, we looked into the existing ways Bangladeshi women combat their online harassment. We found that the organizational and legal systems often disappoint the harassment victims by dismissing their voice against the harassment. To avoid being dismissed, many women expose their chat history with the harasser on Facebook and consider this a way of establishing gender justice as this way they could inform the fellow women and people in concern about the harassers. However, often friends and allies of harassers would also try to ruin such attempts by arguing that the victim forged the chat history. To ensure the authenticity of the evidence presented by the victims, we designed Unmochon that takes screenshots of their Facebook chats along with the Facebook IDs of the people involves in the chat and posts them in a dedicated Facebook group for Unmochon. The admin panel of this group consists of socially responsible personnel and they are closely tied to the legal system of the country.
What does it mean to you to have been named a Facebook Fellow?
This is actually very exciting that I am the first woman from Bangladesh to receive this fellowship. This program gives me a lot of freedom. I am also meeting Facebook researchers on different occasions. I believe such networks in the industry would help me achieve my research goals and progress in my career too.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?
I often paint, but I do not get much time for it. I love to watch movies and enjoy music from different cultures.
Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?
I chose Cornell for two reasons. First, the HCI community here is one of the best in the world. Many graduates from this program are actually global superstar HCI researchers on today’s date. Clearly, Cornell information science was a dream place to pursue my Ph.D. Second, Cornell’s campus is extremely pretty.