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Women At Work

W.A.W. (Women+ at Work) is a new artwork based on the history and future of women at work

In January - February 2020 W.A.W. premiered a new art installation REPRODUCTION: an exhibition on choices, fertility, infertility, preconception, perinatal and neonatal loss, pregnancy, birth and childcare in the Council Chamber of The Guildhall, Cambridge, UK.

REPRODUCTION is inspired by ‘Maternity’; a collection of letters by working women, brought together by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1915 and published with the help of Virginia Woolf, that revealed the previously un-mentionable hardships of maternity for working women as part of an on-going campaign to improve the almost non-existent maternal and infant care available to poorer women at the time. For this exhibition the artist brings together stories from Cambridge residents in 2020 with the ambition of raising awareness to the issues that still need addressing today and offering a point of solidarity to people who often face these issues in isolation.

Differing from the collection made in 1915 this contemporary collection welcomes stories from people of any gender identity, men women and non-binary people, and of parenting through birth, adoption, surrogacy, fostering, or special guardianship. In recognition that having children is work, stories are also welcome from people engaged in paid or unpaid labour. In continuation of the understood need to break the silence around these issues, as has continued since 1915, and in recognition that the hardest thing about having children is losing them or not being able to have them, the project includes issues of preconception, fertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death as an extremely important part of this history.

The Women’s Co-operative Guild was very active in Cambridge, led by Clara Rackham. This project invites people across the city to rally to her call to the National Council of Women in Cambridge in 1962 that we must remain ‘eternally vigilant!’

W.A.W. is an artwork by Emma Smith commissioned by UNISON. The work was commissioned to build on the extraordinary history of Cambridge women in the advancement of women’s rights politically, in education, and at work and to recognise the hidden histories of Cambridge residents.

Emma is based in Cambridge and works internationally. Previous projects include for Tate Modern, Barbican, Bluecoat, HOME, Whitworth, Kettle’s Yard and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

W.A.W. are continuing to collect stories.

Much has changed since 1915 not least the changing roles and models of family. And yet, while the availability of free health care through the NHS, improved ante-natal care, and maternity and paternity rights have radically transformed the experience of childbirth, it is the same topics that still present issues for people at work in 2019: silence around pre-conception, miscarriage and still birth, inadequacy of maternity allowance (not covering the additional time required in cases of premature birth / state allowance not covering living costs), the brevity of paternity allowance, mal practice by employers, working culture that supports gender inequality (pay-gap, workload and job design that undermines flexible work) and lack of state / affordable childcare (preventing return to work).

Please contact us to share your story:

Events & Podcasts

Reproduction was accompanied by events to discuss topics raised through the exhibition. Recordings from these events have been produced as podcasts, launched on 8 March 2020 International Women's Day, which you can listen to here:

Work Body Ready: Session One

Reproduction and the work place: preconception, fertility, infertility and perinatal loss.

Speakers include: artist and founder of W.A.W. Emma Smith, award winning speaker, author and leading UK voice on fertility Jessica Hepburn, and Clare Foster of the Miscarriage Association, award recipient for her resources for young people and miscarriage. This session discusses the silence in the workplace around preconception, fertility, infertility and perinatal loss. It will consider the impact that these experiences have on working life and look at strategies for support, survival, and awareness.

Emma Smith is an artist based in Cambridge. She works internationally and is founder of Women at Work. Jessica Hepburn is one of the UK's leading patient voices on fertility, infertility and the science of making babies and modern families. Having been through eleven rounds of IVF, she has become a pioneer in raising awareness of what it means to struggle to create the family you long for, and how to live as big and bravely as possible when life doesn't go to plan. Award winning speaker and author, Jessica was nominated for Amnesty International’s Women of Suffragette Spirit in 2018. Clare Foster leads the ‘Miscarriage and the Workplace’ project for the Miscarriage Association. The Miscarriage Association was founded in 1982 by a group of people who had experienced miscarriage. They continue to offer support and information to anyone affected by the loss of a baby in pregnancy, to raise awareness and to promote good practice in medical care.

Work Body Ready: Session Two

Post-pregnancy and the work place: breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, rights and return

Speakers include: artist Emma Smith, expert in breastfeeding Professor Amy Brown, the Cambridge based Kings Hedges Family Support Project, Dr Helen McCarthy author of forthcoming publication Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood and Liz Brennan, Branch Secretary for Unison Cambridge City. This session considers the pregnant and post-pregnant body at work including the (in)visibility of the working pregnant body, parents’ grassroots experiences at work, breastfeeding and returning to work, and parental and women’s rights in the workplace.

Emma Smith is an artist based in Cambridge. She works internationally and is founder of Women at Work. Professor Amy Brown is based in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences at Swansea University in the UK where she leads the MSc in Child Public Health. With a background in psychology, Professor Brown first became interested in the many barriers women face when breastfeeding after having her first baby. Three babies and a PhD later she has spent the last twelve years exploring psychological, cultural and societal barriers to breastfeeding, with an emphasis on understanding how we can better support women to breastfeed and subsequently raise breastfeeding rates. The Kings Hedges Family Support Project (KHFSP) runs drop-in sessions for local families with children up to 3 years old in Cambridge. Established in 1994 by a group of local professionals and parents, sessions were aimed at supporting local families with their parenting and their children’s early crucial years. This ethos remains at the core of KHFSP’s work today. Dr Helen McCarthy is University Lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of St John’s College. Dr McCarthy’s current book project explores histories of women, mothering and paid work in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and will be published as Double Lives: A History of Working Motherhood by Bloomsbury Books in 2020. Liz Brennan, Branch Secretary for UNISON Cambridge City. UNISON Cambridge City is the largest single trade union Branch in Cambridgeshire, and part of the largest public services trade union, UNISON; with members working across hundreds of organisations and employers.

These events were convened in collaboration between artist Emma Smith and curator Rachel Fleming-Mulford.