Common Sense Champion: Nicola Williams

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Mark Lehain
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Our Common Sense Champion this week is Nicola Williams, Director of Fair Play for Women (FPFW). We have chosen Nicola for her work in protecting the rights of women and girls – and the way that she has gone about this.

In particular, we wanted to recognise the role that she played in the most recent success by her organisation FPFW. This was a hugely significant win in court that required the Office for National Statistics to withdraw and replace guidance it had released to inform an all-important question about sex in the national census. 

Nicola is a research scientist by background, specialising in human biology. Before entering the world of campaigning she held a number of senior scientific positions within the pharmaceutical sector. This scientific expertise has proved vital as she has gone about her work in recent years, enabling her to cut through the emotion and ideology that underpins many of the arguments made by people, and get down to the hard facts and evidence.

Importantly though, she combines this highly-analytical, evidence-driven approach with a calm and considered nature. The clash between transgender and women’s rights is a highly-charged and difficult topic to navigate. There are good, passionate, and well-meaning people on all sides of the debate, yet all-too-often the narrative is determined by a small number of the loudest activists. Nicola has been able to carve a route through all this in manner that many others have not been able to. The contributions by her and FPFW are respectful and inclusive – and all the more compelling for this.

It’s why Nicola and Fair Play For Women have become such respected voices in the sector. Whether it is sport, sex-based services and facilities, prisons, the Gender Recognition Act, or whatever – they are one of the go-to places for insights that will be based in reality and the law, and be kind and thoughtful in their nature too.

Sadly, in spite of this, some extreme gender identity activists refuse to engage with Nicola, simply because she won’t accept their beliefs or the back down on the concerns many have about transgender rights encroaching on those of women and children. She has faced numerous occasions where people have deplatformed, or tried to deplatform, her.

Where this hasn’t proved possible, organisations like Stonewall have tried to make it impossible for her to make meaningful contributions to policy formation and debates. This recent article shows in terrifying detail the extent to which people will go to silence meaningful discussion, to ensure the views of an activist minority take precedent and shape policy.

None of this has put Nicola off from continuing to make her case, nor has it provoked her to anger or intemperate words. Some might have been tempted to rest on their laurels after a win as big as that in the High Court. Not Nicola. She’s already back in the arena, asking trustees and executives to think carefully about who they are inviting to write or shape policies with. As ever, she is doing so from a legal- and evidence-informed position, and in a clear and considered fashion. 

So for all of the reasons above, it was a no-brainer to add Nicola to our Common Sense Champions. We look forward to seeing what other constructive contributions she brings in the future to a difficult and important area of public policy!

Mark Lehain


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