A chance encounter with underage victims of the sex trafficking trade in Batam in 2003 changed Saleemah Ismail’s life.
“I met girls who were 13 to 15 years of age who had been trafficked into prostitution,” she recounts.
“What struck me was that they looked like me; they looked like my cousins, my sisters, my neighbours. They looked like the people I grew up with.”
While Saleemah started her career in the private sector and worked for several years there, the call of social activism proved too strong for the gender equality and diversity advocate.
The 48-year-old was working as a volunteer translator then, but in an instant she was spurred to do more to fight for women and girls who have been exploited and abused.
“I remember vividly a 14-year-old girl named Lara*, who even at that tender age had already serviced 300 clients,” says Saleemah through tears.
“The difference between me and her was $22, the cost of a ferry ticket from Batam to Singapore.”
Two decades on, the memory has not escaped Saleemah and neither has her pledge to do more for women.
(*Name has been changed to protect victim’s identity.)