When Jaha Dukureh created a Change.org petition to tackle female genital mutilation, or "female circumcision," in the United States last year, her goal was modest: 1,000 supporters.
Dukureh, then 24, who herself underwent genital cutting as a girl in Gambia and now lives in Atlanta, wanted an updated federal estimate of the women who have had the procedure or are at risk of it. The number was last estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1997, when 168,000 women and girls were said to have had the operation, or been at risk, in the United States. Dukureh hoped her petition would get a modest number of supporters to back the call for gathering data, as a step toward addressing the issue.
"1000!!!!!!," she wrote in an update on March 7 about her petition signatures. Nine days later, she topped the 1,500 mark. With a push from The Guardian, and tweets of support from celebrities including Paula Abdul and Susan Sarandon, the numbers took off, reaching 220,000 signatures by July. Most significantly, the administration agreed to study the number of women affected and create a working group to come up with a plan to tackle it.