TOPAZ Issue 5 / 2002
The Unseen Worlds
The Aura Shower
Towards WellBeing
Aproaching Death
The Breath of Life
The Theatre of China
Film Review: Amelié
Why study Great Ladies?
Helping children by helping adults
A colour tool for self assessment

Why study great ladies?

Marion Verweij, Nibs Bloem In the previous issue of Topaz we introduced Feminenza, an international network of and for women. This time we speak with Nibs Bloem and Marion Verweij from The Netherlands. Both ladies are involved in the work of Feminenza and a book by Marion will shortly be published, ‘Beacons of Hope’, about women who try to alleviate the desperate situation of many women in different parts of the world.

Why are you part of Feminenza and what makes Feminenza important?
Marion: “I have been concerned about the situation of the world for years, especially the lack of humanity between people. In the first place I got interested in the significance of being human and then specifically in what it means to be female.”
Nibs: “I am 61 now and as a child I already knew that something is not right as far as the role of women is concerned. With Feminenza I recognised the search for ‘What is a woman’s life about and where is it different from a man’s life? Has it got its own theme? Is there a specific route to travel, its own journey of development?’ Next to that I have been closely involved with Marion’s work as I find the situation of many women in the world disconcerting and appalling.”

What has motivated your researches?
Nibs: “In many world religions, women are considered a lesser gender and even sinful, which has had a fundamental effect on how they are treated.” These views still today remains a major hurdle in trying to change the way women are treated in certain parts of the world.

Marion: “That fascinates me, where did that idea begin? There are numerous women in the world that are subject to this because of their situation.”
Nibs: “There are many inspiring biographies of women, who have been courageous and strong, and who have been able able to make an important contribution to society, for instance Helen Keller or Florence Nightingale or Etty Hillesum. There are many women who have gone their own way and have shown that they have an important contribution to make, despite the situation in the world or despite how they are thought about. That is part of my motive, to trace women like that, because they are not always brought to the fore, women who have been driven and had a vision that they stood by. I find that very inspiring, that something has improved in the world because they were there.”

Nibs has studied the life of one woman, Etty Hillesum, while Marion has found out about women in other places in the world. Could you tell us more about that?
Marion: “It started as a research for me, to find out more about the situation of women who are not as fortunate as ourselves in Holland. What you then find out about is appalling. During the course of the research I came into contact with women who try to do something about that, hence the title of my book ‘Beacons of Hope’. The situation they find themselves in is very bleak and yet they are trying to do something about it. For example, I started corresponding with a lady in Kenya called Agnes. She is a tremendously strong lady who founded a shelter and a school for girls who otherwise would be on the streets because they have refused to be circumcised and married off. She gives them schooling so that later they can fend for themselves. I find that so courageous. If I can write a book and can send her some money, as my way of saying ‘I think what you do is fantastic’... I came across so many stories like this.”

How did you come to write the book Beacons of Hope that you have mentioned?
Marion: “When you look into the situation of many women, what you meet is often dreadful. For instance I asked for statistics on the amount of women that are circumcised, According to the United Nations 2 million girls per year, in other words 6000 just today. I could not digest the reply, yet there is Agnes, she believes in something and is trying to make a difference. What keeps her going? What drives her? There are many women like this, who are driven to make a difference to the situation they find themselves in. I found myself asking how I could make a contribution to help these women. Feminenza is for all women in the world, and I wanted to know more about that.”
Nibs: “That is also where we found each other. Though I come at it from a different angle, the motive is the same. To support and create a web that can bind all women in the world and in which the qualities of Etty Hillesum, of Maya Angelou, of Agnes, of all women that have done something with their lives, are alive. A collection of qualities that are a source to draw from. Maya Angelou is so impressive. Where she came from and how she lifted herself out of that. To the question where she got her confidence from, she responded: “When I enter a room, 2000 women enter it with me.” She has joined herself to the strength of all the other women. That is what we can do for women in the world. To make sure that there is a web, an internet of strengths and qualities that you can tap into and from which you can draw strength from.”
Marion: “I experienced that when I held a talk about this for the first time, I felt such power. I was very aware of the reason why I did it and I felt there was more than just me. This is something I can do, that’s what I’m good at.”

What do you get out of it, for you?
Waris DirieMarion: “I feel that something in me has been touched and that now drives me. When someone asks me a question I start to respond and only stop an hour later, as if something has to be said, it feels impersonal. That happens time and again. What these women are doing is almost inconceivable to me, but I am convinced that I have to contribute this way. This is what I can do. By focussing on the important and special, my life becomes less stressful and more useful.”
Nibs: “I was born in the war and as a young child I was touched by the fate of the Jewish people. I find that by throwing light on the life of Etty Hillesum, as an example, I can champion respect in the world for lives that have been treated so casually. She had a clean, beautiful and intense life, with so much profundity and if I can bring that back, reflect that back into myself, if I can learn from people who have gone before me, then I would want to do that. Often I read her journals and wonder how I would have handled this or that circumstance. I find such an honesty and clarity in how she was, and if I can awaken those qualities in myself and perhaps show them to others, then that may contribute to a solution in the world. She looks at herself and doesn’t hesitate to face her own shortcomings and to tackle them. I believe that that is what one must do in life - nobody is a saint, but one hopes to leave this place better than one came into it. In order to do that you have to be honest and not sweep it under the rug and pretend it isn’t there. She also believed that she was in the world for a reason and wanted to make a contribution.
I believe you have to uphold the qualities you want to see in the world, and you have to take a position about those things you don’t want to see by standing against them in yourself. By doing this we may make some small difference. And it is up to every generation to do that. Every human has got choice. The choice to stop something and the choice to put something out into the world.”

Interview by Gerda van Schaik

‘Beacons of Hope’ is published this month; price about 12 euros. For information or orders, please visit

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