With International Women’s Day coming up on Thursday, a group of 16 Quebec women’s groups announced a new coalition aimed ending violence against women on Sunday.

Louise Riendeau, spokesperson for the Coalition of Homes for Female Victims of Conjugal Violence, said the new group, dubbed the Feminist Coalition, said the work is important since so many victims never come forward. She called for institutional reforms that would make it easier and safer for female victims to seek help from authorities.

“When we look at the statistics, we can see that on domestic violence more than 19,000 women go to the police each year. For sexual violence, it’s near 6,000, but it’s far less. Those are crimes that are under declared to police. We know only 30 per cent of women who face domestic violence go to police and only five per cent of women who face sexual violence go to the police.”

The gathering occurred just a week after a Montreal vigil for Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old First Nations girl from Winnipeg who was killed in 2014. On Feb. 22, Fontaine’s accused killer was found not guilty of second-degree murder. According to Indigenous Women of Quebec president Viviane Michel, First Nations’ people represent two per cent of the population but are victims of 60 per cent of the violence.

She cited an estimate that the number of missing Native women and girls is over 1,200.

“They are showing us again and again that we aren’t important in the eyes of the justice system,” she said. “Often, families are left to conduct their own investigation.”

Native women aren’t the only minorities who are at a disadvantage in the justice system, said Shield of Athena Executive Director Melpa Kamateros.

“It isn’t easy for women who don’t speak the language to come out and say ‘I’m a victim,’” she said. “You don’t have access to information, you don’t speak the language and you don’t have access to resources.”

Jenni-Laure Sully of the Concerted Fight Against Sexual Violence said the costs involved in violence against women, such as medical costs, police and court costs and lost wages, makes the fight not just a moral one, but an economically responsible one.  

“We’re here to tell the government that different choices need to be made. When we look at the numbers the government itself gives us on violence against women, in terms of sexual aggression or conjugal violence, the numbers added up to $12 billion (in Canada). That’s not including sexual exploitation, so it’s actually a lot more.”   

While 2017 has been cited as a marquee year for women’s issues, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, Sully said it must be the beginning of something larger to truly make a difference.

“The #MeToo movement is a movement to liberate women’s voices. It’s a very important movement, it’s taken the world by storm. This is why we’re here, we’re saying that now that women feel they can speak, they can talk about the situations people weren’t willing to listen to, we have to be here to make sure that what these women are saying means something to the government and actions will be taken from now on.”