Why study great ladies?
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
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.
“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.”
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
What do you get out of it, for you?
“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.
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 www.template.nl/en/producten/.