MONTREAL -- In 2020 in Quebec, nine women were killed by their partner or ex-partner. In the last month alone, five women have already succumbed to conjugal violence. Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones.

The pandemic has exacerbated the already very difficult situation in which women and children who are victims of this violence are living, in addition to making the request for help more complex. Confined with their partners at home, cut off from their family, friends and work circles, they have seen the violence intensify in severity and frequency.

The relaxation of health measures and the potential return to a normal life make us fear the worst. After months of having total control over their spouses, how will abusive partners react when they are able to return to work and see their family and friends? We fear new tragedies; there is an urgency to act now.

Providing services to every woman who asks for it and preventing violence at the societal level: these are two of the essential and inseparable missions we have as shelters and support houses. A promise that we cannot always keep, due to lack of means, and that it is essential to guarantee.

Despite the investments made last year, which will allow us to consolidate our teams and ensure the continuity of the services offered, it is clear that our network is at the end of its rope. All too often, we are struggling to meet demand and must abandon prevention in favour of intervention. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, our shelters have been competing in ingenuity since the beginning of the pandemic to avoid service disruptions, reorganize reception and services, and reach as many women as possible.

By recognizing us as essential services and by working proactively with us since last March, your government has taken the measure of our social importance. The ambitious reforms anticipated - from the Specialized Court to family law reform - and the recommendations of the committees dealing with conjugal violence give us hope for a profound transformation of the justice system and a society that strongly rejects violence against women.

We need this strong political will to continue; on your side, you need a vigorous network of specialized resources to deploy this vision of society throughout the province and put into practice the initiatives and action plans announced. By joining forces, we can reduce conjugal violence and guarantee women's rights. To do so, we need you to give us the means and the capacity to offer the direct services that women and children need and to act on several fronts.

It is not yet time to relax our efforts in the area of conjugal violence. Raising awareness among family members and the youngest in our schools, training police officers and youth protection workers to better intervene in cases of conjugal violence, building alliances with workplaces that are also called upon to mobilize, helping to shape a judicial system that places victims at the heart of decisions, coordinating crisis units when a woman or her children are in mortal danger, adapting services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women and not letting anyone fall through the cracks, etc. These are some of the actions that our shelters are already carrying out in our communities, as community-based organizations, and that we must have the means to continue and intensify.

The task is immense, but our determination is even greater. The problem is complex, but we have the expertise and experience. The road is long, but we are ready to go the distance, with your help. For women. For their children. And so that future generations will no longer have to fear for their safety because they are women. Give us the means to deliver on this promise that is both basic and yet surprisingly demanding. Still in 2021.

- Chantal Arseneault is the president of Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale

The letter is co-signed by representatives of 53 women's shelters for victims of conjugal violence across Quebec :

Cathy Allen, Alternative pour Elles
Flora Fernandez, Assistance aux Femmes de Montréal
Marie-Andrée Beaudoin, Auberge de l'Amitié Roberval inc.
Irene Jansson, Auberge Transition
Isabelle Fecteau, Havre l'Éclaircie
Cathie Sombret, Horizon pour Elle
France Dupuis, L’Escale pour Elle
Julie Poirier, La Bouée Régionale
Caroline Limoges, La Citad'Elle de Lachute
Valérie Grégoire, La Clé sur la Porte
Vinciane Cousin, La Débrouille
Marie-Laure Leymonie, La Gigogne
Chantal Tanguay, La Gîtée
Sylvie Bernatchez, La Jonction pour Elle
Hélène Vandette, La maison Blanche-Morin
Cathy Arseneault, La Maison du Réconfort
Diane Néron, La Maison la Montée
Annie Houle, La Maison La Nacelle
Carolyne Boutin, La Méridienne inc.
Karine Morel, La Re-Source
Denise Tremblay, La Séjournelle
Louise Castonguay, L'Autre-Toit du KRTB
Monic Caron, Le Centre Louise-Amélie
Melodee Ko, Le Havre des Femmes
Ginette Girard, Le Toit de L'Amitié
Myriam Tison, L'Ombre-Elle
Nancy Gough, MAH L'Émergence
Martine Dallaire, Maison d’accueil et d’hébergement La Chambrée
Caroline Caron, Maison d'accueil La Traverse
Maryse Lachaine, Maison d'accueil Le Mitan
Linda Turbide, Maison d'aide et d'hébergement l'Accalmie
Fannie Roy, Maison d'Ariane
Sabrina Bernier, Maison De Connivence
Julie Bruyère, Maison de Lina
Hélène Millier, Maison des femmes de Baie-Comeau
Linh Nguyên-Biron, Maison des femmes de Québec
Karine Balesse, Maison des femmes de Sept-Iles
Julie Croteau, Maison d'hébergement La Volte-Face
Chantal Lalonde, Maison d'hébergement Le Nid
Cathy Bellehumeur, Maison d'hébergement l'Équinoxe
Annick Brazeau, Maison d'Hébergement Pour Elles Des Deux Vallées
Judith Cantin, Maison Halte Secours
Nathalie Villeneuve, Maison Hina
Johanne Gagnon, Maison l'Amie d'Elle Inc
Julie Poulin, Maison Le Prélude
Chantal Arseneault, Maison L'Esther
Anne-Marie Boucher, Maison Mikana
Murielle Jean-Baptiste, Maison pour femmes immigrantes
Nicole Richer, Maison Secours aux Femmes de Montréal Inc.
Mylaine Paquette, Maison Unies-Vers-Femmes
Morgane Roussel, Multi-Femmes
Roxane Prenovost, Passe-R-Elle des Hautes-Laurentides
Guylaine Simard, Refuge pour les femmes de l'Ouest de l'Île