International Women’s Day Spotlight: Pei

Wednesday March 8th was International Women’s Day, a day of commemorating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and challenges of women around the world in the ongoing pursuit for gender equality. 

This year’s International Women’s Day also marks the 30-year anniversary of ACTAsia founder and CEO Pei Su’s incredible work in animal, social, and environmental justice. On this important day of global feminist recognition, we are proud to be spotlighting our very own inspirational female leader and her tremendous, impactful accomplishments. 

Pei co-founded ACTAsia in 2006 alongside an Asian veterinarian with the aim to encourage more caring societies in Asian countries. ACTAsia’s work commits to realising long term change by addressing root causes of social, animal, and environmental issues through education. We hope our work will show the world how Asian solutions can be developed and implemented in Asian countries.

Pei’s Story 

Pei has been at the leading edge of social change in Asia for 30 years, tirelessly advocating for animal rights and a world infused with empathy. In her early twenties, she began working for grassroots organisations in Taiwan across an array of social and environmental issues.

Pei highlights her early career in Taiwan campaigning for animal welfare, a concept which, with the country holding a grim animal rights reputation at the time, was largely unknown and unnamed. It was a difficult topic to lobby for, and “as a female, I was not taken seriously.” 

From her first arrival into the charity sector, Pei recognised the deeply intertwined nature of people, animals, and their environment in the ability to effect change for the better. “In today’s world, we cannot look at issues in isolation.” 

Though aligned with the aims of international NGOs in supporting the development and improvement of various countries to build a better world, Pei noticed discrepancies between intentions and subsequent actions. “When working with international organisations, I saw well-meaning programmes with the intent to set them on the ground, but they could not be delivered due to a lack of understanding of socio-political contexts.” Pei saw a meaningful need for local, situated and systemic answers to societal issues. A need for addressing issues by starting from the ground up. A need for education. 

Pioneering localised and interconnected change

In founding ACTAsia, Pei was looking to support the growth of humane societies in Asia by finding “solutions developed by Asian people to address issues within their own countries.” Her vision was and continues to be to: 

  • educate children in compassion for animals and fellow humans;
  • promote responsible consumption in Asia;
  • train and educate professionals to influence positive change; and
  • create a better future for our planet. 

With ACTAsia, Pei has advanced her personal belief into a groundbreaking compassion movement in Asia. “We have staff in China, the UK, globally. We have expanded influence with our Compassionate Choices Network, connecting Asian leaders.” Her 30 years of championing societal change have been saturated by courage and resilience: indispensable attributes for navigating the difficulties and barriers associated with the realities of gender inequality. 

Creating better futures, empowering women 

“It has been a harsh journey. I had to push boundaries. I learned to push back when forces are against you.” 

Pei discusses the internalisation of being disregarded and dismissed due to biases as the experience of an overwhelming and crippling self-doubt. Struggling to be taken seriously as a woman, from lobbying in Taiwan to founding ACTAsia in the United Kingdom, “I had to force myself to be strong and to be brave.”

“I have had to believe in myself.” 

And belief is Pei’s key message this International Women’s Day. To Pei, success comes from the meeting of compassion and believing in oneself. With persisting gender inequities and inequalities, we must hold onto and push for our values.

Our current socio-cultural structure remains embedded with prejudice and scepticism against women, against minorities, against difference. “I had to be tough,” Pei recalls, “there should be less query, less judgement getting in the way of women trying to lead.” 

In the face of societal doubt, Pei reminds us: “you need to believe in your own values.” 

Photos by Chen You-Wei & Jo-Anne McArthur

“The work environment needs to be easier for women to be leaders.” Pei’s vision is founded in the importance of long haul approaches to social change. Though we need to believe in ourselves when confronted with walls of inequality, to be tough and push against them, these walls ultimately need to be dismantled, brick by brick. The battle against gender inequality and inequity requires a renewal of societal value systems. 

Pei finds promise of systemic change in education. ACTAsia’s Caring For Life (CFL) curriculum has reached hundreds of thousands of students in Asia, holding optimism for the development of better futures. Central to the CFL programme is the feminist ethic of care, which recognises and celebrates interdependencies and differences. “In teaching friendly interaction with one another, both animals and other humans, we teach the values of gender equality from a young age.” 

After 30 years of leading interconnected social, animal, and environmental justice with 17 years of ACTAsia, Pei is proud of the continuously expanding impact of her vision. “I am proud to be able to work in China and other Asian countries. In 2020 during the pandemic, there wasn’t a single day we didn’t work. We did more. We turned the global COVID-19 challenge to become an opportunity for promoting the interconnection between animal, human and environmental health,” she says. 

“Always impact-oriented, we do what we believe is good.” 

Happy International Women’s Day and thank you Pei for your three decades of profound, inspirational work!