Gender and Opportunity: How the Grantham Centre helps me reinvent my identity as an early career researcher and activist

Grantham Scholar Mira Lieberman reflects on her upbringing in an immigrant refugee family and how education helped her rethink what she learned as a child

Sociocultural constraints and opportunities

This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day campaign – #pressforprogree – urges feminists to commit to progressive action. As Gloria Steinem, a feminist, journalist and activist once explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”* For me, this collective is represented by various academic communities and the generous opportunities I have been exposed to. 

For me, the entire aim of education is to develop yourself and your mind, so that you can help free and protect others.

Growing up in an immigrant refugee family and the sociocultural constraints that accompanied this status was a defining tone of my childhood. In a country made up of refugees fleeing religious and ethnic persecution, multiculturalism and multilingualism did not carry high cultural capital in Israel. The strong political and ideological drive to construct a unified people and nation (while deniably excluding others), erased avenues for self-exploration, individualisation and reflexion, that were only made possible upon emigrating to Europe and entering higher education. Reflexively thinking about my place in Israeli society, British society, and the wider European community as a female has only become possible thanks to my higher education and the opportunities that were given to me by other female academics.

Education in Israel was imbued with tradition in which religious studies served as historical scriptures for legitimacy. The place of women in this dominant ideology has only begun to be questioned the more I developed my critical thinking in my Sociocultural Linguistics MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. The MA, the most transformative of experiences for me, not only allowed me to develop criticality, but also my very knowledge about the world and the way I positioned myself, and the way I was positioned in it. The awareness of my own oppression as an immigrant (here in the UK at the time) and as a woman developed compassion that was extended beyond the human race. I began to appreciate the colossal nonhuman animal exploitation, destruction and oppression, and through my MA programme I was able to conduct small-scale research on animal welfare and animal rights activism, combining my passion for ecolinguistics, sociolinguistics and the natural world.

Making an impact

“I am in favour of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.” Abraham Lincoln

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures scholarship is an exemplary programme for driving change towards parity. Through the scholarship, and under the supervision of Professor Jill Atkins and Dr Robert McKay, I have the opportunity to contribute not only to the representation of women in academia, the field of accounting and linguistics, but also effectuate a true change. The Grantham Centre’s training schemes provide me with the tools to meaningfully and actively engage with public policy, politics and public opinion. This valuable opportunity is directly linked with my own epistemological approach to my research project. An interdisciplinary PhD, it is situated within environmental accounting and ecolinguistics, and aims to transform business organisations’ activity. Therefore, my PhD is emancipatory and activist in orientation, aiming to protect animals from extinction and exploitation. Specifically, I aim to explore how an accounting for extinction of species framework could be implemented in companies’ integrated reports and sustainability reports.

How quickly can early career researchers can make an impact? Already in my first year, thanks to the support and opportunities available through the scholarship and the encouragement of my supervisors, I was invited to the University of Toulouse to deliver a 2-day training in Critical Discourse Analysis to the environmental accounting research department. In addition, I have the excellent opportunity to co-organise an event for the Sheffield Festival of Debate this May, bringing together experts from various fields to discuss overpopulation and sustainability. 

Given the current species and biodiversity loss rates, named as a 6th mass extinction, there is great urgency to change policy to protect and value all life on Earth. Human rights, women’s rights, gender equality and animal rights are interlinked. We must build a more just society and reverse climate change to assure the survival of all living beings. It is only through the unity of all communities and individuals to act and be all-inclusive that true social change can happen.  

* References: International Women’s Day (2017) International Women’s Day 2018 campaign theme: #PressforProgress