Manjula Sood, the India-origin Lord Mayor of Leicester, wants immediate action to help women in India and elsewhere in the developing world who were shunned because they were widows.
Sood released hundreds of multi-coloured balloons to highlight a campaign to raise awareness about the problem.
The event was organised by the Loomba Trust for the first time in Leicester at the De Montfort University.
The event, organised as the International Widows' Day, has so far been held at the Trafalgar Square, London.
Sood, who was widowed in 1996, said: "This is a quite an emotional initiative to be involved in. I know from personal experience what it is like to go through this.
"In this country, there is a support mechanism for widows, but in many developing countries that is not the case. Now is the time to take action to help these women, and to make sure they have access to support and help."
The Loomba Trust educates thousands of children of widows in India and runs support projects in other developing countries. The trust has been running since 1997 and International Widows Day was launched in 2005 by Cherie Blair.
Raj Loomba, founder of the trust, said: "This is the first function in the UK to be held outside of London. We are pleased that people are joining with us to help raise awareness.
"This is an international problem. There are millions of widows worldwide and with their children, hundreds of millions of people who have been deprived of education and face many hardships."
The De Montfort University, which organised the balloon release, is considering a scheme in which Indian students sponsored by the Loomba Trust can study at the university.
Deputy vice-chancellor Professor David Asch told the local media: "The Loomba Trust does excellent work helping disadvantaged children gain an education so they can get a job and be able to support their families.
"This vitally important work helps to end the cycle of poverty which blights so many lives. We decided we wanted to do what we could to help raise awareness of what the Loomba Trust does".