In an attempt to organise a broad-based and inter-racial women's organisation, the Federation of South African Women (FSAW or FEDSAW) was launched on 17 April 1954 in Johannesburg. Ray Simons, who was the brain behind the formation of a women's organisation, brought together Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi and Amina Cachalia to form a steering committee. The founding conference of this federation was attended by 164 delegates representing 230,000 women from all parts of South Africa.
The leadership of the federation consisted mainly of trade unionists, teachers and nurses. Although FEDSAW included some individual members, it was primarily composed of affiliated women's groups, African, Indian, Coloured and White political organisations and trade unions.
During the founding conference the Women's Charter was drafted. The Charter called for the enfranchisement of men and women of all races; equality of opportunity in employment; equal pay for equal work; equal rights in relation to property, marriage and children; and the removal of all laws and customs that denied women such equality.
On 9 August 1956, FEDSAW organised a march by 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws. This march was one of the organisation's most important campaigns.