Karen Mason

Karen Mason, far right, is shown at a recent government funding announcement.

Karen Mason describes leaving her position as executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter as “transitioning,” not resigning.

Mason soon will leave the job she’s had for the past 5 1/2 years to work on a new project, in collaboration with UBC Okanagan.

In July, the federal government announced $1 million in funding to research traumatic brain injuries in women who have been abused in intimate-partner relationships. The Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury Through Research project — SOAR, for short — is headed by UBC Okanagan professor Paul van Donkelaar and Mason.

“It’s a highly understudied area,” Mason said Thursday. “There are now a lot of opportunities to help women who experienced brain injury at the hands of a partner and maybe don’t even realize it. There needs to be a bigger focus on this.”

In 2015, more than 92,000 cases of intimate-partner violence were reported in Canada, according to government statistics. Nearly 80% of victims in these cases were women and girls, many between the ages of 25 and 29.

Over 90% of those women report symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

Mason is proud of her time as head of the women’s shelter, which has 26 employees, plus an additional 168 volunteers who last year provided more than 11,000 volunteer hours.

“We’ve done so many things, and that’s the result of having an incredible team,” she said. “We created a lot of new structure and process to help us grow as an organization and develop a stronger place in the community. We have an active role in the Journey Home project and the homeless in Kelowna. We were recently selected by BC Housing to operate a new facility for supportive second-stage and affordable permanent shelter for women and children escaping violent relationships.”

That project is expected to open within the next two to three years.

The women’s shelter is funded in part through private donations, service groups and businesses hosting third-party fundraisers. Recruiting volunteers, Mason said, is never a challenge.

“Every day I’m in awe of the level of generosity this community offers in terms of financial support and people willing to lend their time and expertise,” she said.

Next year will mark the shelter’s 40th anniversary in the community.

When asked about high-profile sex assault cases that have dominated the news cycle for the past several years, Mason said the positive spinoff is awareness.

“What has happened has been awful and incredibly heartbreaking, but these cases such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and now Jeffrey Epstein have brought this issue out from under the rug where it’s been for too many years. When women are killed by intimate partners, we’re finally starting to call it what it is — femicide.

“We are at a pivotal place as a society where people are starting to understand this is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue, and more men are stepping out as leaders, knowing they have a role to play in creating a safe environment for all humans, no matter their gender.”

Mason’s final day in her current job is Sept. 17. Recruitment is underway to fill her position at the women’s shelter.