The key tenets to the work of the Coalition: the first is information sharing and capacity building; the second is lobbying and advocacy. Its aims and objectives can be summarised as:
The Equality Coalition was founded in 1996 by community and voluntary sector organisations and trade unions. It was instrumental in putting equality at the forefront of the agenda at that time, specifically in relation to policy appraisal and fair treatment (PAFT), the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, and ultimately the public sector duty in section 75 of the NI Act 1998.
The Equality Coalition now has over 80 members, many of which are umbrella organisations. It is co-convened by CAJ and UNISON.
The Equality Coalition provides a forum for unity between all sectors when campaigning for equality, while allowing for the diversity of its members’ work and views. By facilitating a strong message from diverse equality groups, mutual support between members, and consideration of the multiple identity aspects of equality work, it helps to ensure maximum impacts in a resource efficient manner. This approach is particularly important in the current environment, where organisations’ resources are challenged.
The Equality Coalition has bi-monthly meetings, at which members can exchange information and discuss current equality issues. In addition, the Equality Coalition compiles and circulates information on public consultations, members’ and other events, and equality news. It also facilitates high level meetings with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Government Departments and Political Representatives.
The Equality Coalition hosts events and seminars to facilitate engagement with public authorities, build capacity within the membership and allow for networking between members. It is also available to provide expert advice and support on equality matters.
The Equality Coalition and its staff members have always been run from within CAJ, with joint direction from UNISON. There has been and remains no other collective voice on equality for the sector in Northern Ireland. There remains no other overarching consistent ‘critical friend’ of the equality oversight bodies, public authorities and local government. CAJ employs a specialist human rights post in the Equalities Coordinator who both engages on CAJ-led equalities initiatives but also runs the Equality Coalition. Equalities actions requiring a formal legal personality, such as litigating on the absence of an anti-poverty strategy or issuing equality schemes complaints, can and are easily taken forward by CAJ or other member groups.