By  on March 11, 2013

NEW YORK — Undeterred by Friday’s snowstorm, Christy Turlington Burns, Susan Sarandon and Alexandra Richards were among the 200-plus women who joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s wife, Ban Soon-taek, in the first “March on March 8.”

After the half-mile walk from the United Nations to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, supporters huddled under umbrellas as they listened to speakers. Even the Secretary-General made a surprise appearance on stage. The crowd also cheered when Sarandon read a transcript of a video message from Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist who nearly died after being shot by the Taliban for her belief that girls deserve the right to an education.

Standing beside a color portrait of Yousafzai, Sarandon read, “We all need to fight for our own rights, not only girls’ but also boys’. They are working day and night. They don’t go to school. So if you don’t fight for our rights, we won’t get our rights. We won’t see the day where we all go to school.”

Held on International Women’s Day and hosted by U.N. Women for Peace, several speakers mentioned such stark statistics as the fact that between 100 million and 140 million women suffer from genital mutilation.

Soon-taek told the marchers, “You are making history. Every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence and threats. It may seem impossible to end all attacks on women and girls, but when I look at you I know it is possible. This is a movement whose time has come.”

Before the march, Burns said of IWD, “This is one of the rare events where the whole world comes together. We’re one of the rare countries that doesn’t do more of a celebration. I wish more people would be part of this [march], but hopefully they will.”

During her remarks, “Gossip Girl” actress Kelly Rutherford cried openly. In a Fire + Ice fur-trimmed jacket, Richards was jittery before her speech. “I swim with sharks. I do cliff-jumping and everything, but this is more nerve-wracking. It’s an important cause, so I can’t mess this up,” she said.

“High School Musical” actress-turned-U.N. Youth Champion Monique Coleman described how a six-month tour of 24 countries, which included a stay at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, changed her views. “After doing all that travel, there was no way I could go back to L.A. I still have the cute shoes, but that’s about it. My soul couldn’t go back to a place where it all comes down to so-what-are-you-working-on. There are other things that are important,” she said.

Afterward, the U.N. Secretary-General told WWD that he was “truly impressed and encouraged by such a huge level of support” among the female leaders, but he also highlighted the need to reach more male leaders to curb violence against women. “The U.N. is very committed to ending violence against women,” he said.

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