NEW YORK -- Thousands of men and women from around the world gathered Sunday outside the United Nations to mark International Women's Day with a march to Times Square, joining voices globally demanding gender equity.

They convened to speak up for the gender that traditionally is paid less for work and often has a smaller voice in policy decisions.

U.N. officials say much has been achieved under the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, signed by 189 governments in 1995 as a pledge for realizing women's rights. But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the marchers that in the 20 years since the Beijing Declaration, "progress has been too slow, uneven."

"We have to fully respect and use the potential of all of our women," Ban said.

He has said the most urgent issue is rape being used as a war weapon, from Nigeria and Somalia to Iraq and Syria.

Speakers at the U.N. gathering before the march included Nobel prize winner Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia.

New York City's first lady, Chirlane McCray, noted that International Women's Day commemorates the day in 1908 when thousands of women marched through the city demanding shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights.

"Today, you are marching in the footsteps of generations of feminists," she said. "This march started more than a century ago, but we still have a long way to go before we get to equality."

In November, New York joined the U.N.'s Safe Global Cities Initiative, which works to combat sexual harassment and sexual violence in public places.