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In some nations, International Women’s Day has become something akin to “Mother’s Day,” a sentimentalized effort to recognize and appreciate the self-sacrificing labor that women do every day across the globe. In the United States, it is hardly noticed, perhaps because its adoption as a formal holiday in the early years of the Soviet Union linked it too closely to communism. The United Nations revived International Women’s Day in the West in the 1970s, when the General Assembly declared March 8 the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace and encouraged member states to mark the occasion. But the day originated in the Progressive Era in the socialist and radical circles of the United States and Europe. Feminists in this era understood interlocking systems of exploitation and inequality; most importantly, they viewed poverty and labor market exploitation as fundamental women’s and human rights issues. This year’s UN International Women’s Day theme – “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty” – is a reminder that “women’s rights” is, or should be, an expansive concept. There are many problems that women face in the U.S. and around the world. We should all choose one or two that we feel most passionately about and find a way to be part of the solution.

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