Women played a vital role in fighting against apartheid, even though they were not in the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) and other groups. Their resistance activities in South Africa went back to their roles organizing trade unions in industries such as laundry, clothing, and furniture in the 1920s. They were opposed to Afrikaner nationalism and fought against apartheid, or racial segregation, in unions. In addition, they wanted to end the classification of jobs by race.
Once the National Party came to power in 1948, starting the era of rigid, legalized apartheid, women continued to fight against apartheid in unions, which the National party had instituted. To show their opposition, women in labor unions led strikes, which were then illegal. Women also formed the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) in 1954; many of their members came from the women's league of the ANC. They fought not only for the end of apartheid but also for greater rights for women of all races. Women were particularly upset about the pass laws that required Black South Africans to carry passes that restricted their movements. They organized demonstrations, including one in Pretoria in which they asked to see the Prime Minister (but were not allowed to do so).
In the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 67 Black South Africans were killed by the police, 40 women and 8 children were among the victims. After the massacre, the government turned to increased brutality, and women's organizations help set up day care centers and feed children. Women continued to fight against apartheid during its entire existence until 1994. While men held leadership positions, women were critical in helping to organize grassroots campaigns against apartheid.