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Sat, 04.17.1954

The Federation of South African Women is Formed

FEDSAW, 1955

*The Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was formed on this date in 1954. FEDSAW was a multi-racial women's organization and lobby group that organized and protested the institutional Apartheid Regime that was present throughout South Africa.

FEDSAW became part of the Congress Alliance, an anti-apartheid coalition led by the African National Congress (ANC). The organization is also most notable for organizing the Women's March 1956, one of the largest apartheid protests in the 1950s. Its founding was spearheaded by Lilian Ngoyi, Rachel Simons, Frances Baard, and Florence Matomela. They organized an informal gathering of women at the Port Elizabeth Annual Trades and Labour council conference.

During this informal meeting, a clear concern for issues regarding women and the welfare of their families was expressed - pass laws that segregated and strictly regulated the movement of black and Coloured people. Other issues expressed were rising food and transportation costs. Furthermore, a rise in the price of bread in mid-1953 had mobilized women in Cape Town to organize politically, further stimulating interest in establishing a women's interest lobby. FEDSAW was thus created as the first attempt at a broad-based and multi-racial women's organization to help meet women's basic needs and those of their families.

Following the Sharpsville Massacre, the apartheid state declared a national emergency and outlawed hundreds of activist groups. Amongst those banned were the ANC and the Congress Alliance. Although FEDSAW was not banned, they were forced to keep its meetings secret to avoid police surveillance, intimidation, and harassment of its members. Furthermore, the arrest of several key leaders of FEDSAW made it extremely difficult to continue operations.

A combination of government pressures and issues funding the organization made it impossible for FEDSAW to continue running. Historically, FEDSAW created one of the first broad-based women's organizations in the country's history. By the mid-1960s, though, FEDSAW had ceased to exist.

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