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International Day of Women & Girls in Science

On 11 February, it will be the 8th anniversary of the annual observance of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is a day to acknowledge the role of women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The acronym STEM is in common use to denote these areas of study and employment.

According to the United Nations website, the timeline for adopting the International Day of Women and Girls in Science occurred as follows:

‘On 14 March 2011, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a report at its fifty-fifth session, with agreed conclusions on access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, and for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. On 20 December 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on science, technology and innovation for development, in which it recognized that full and equal access to and participation in science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages is imperative for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.’

The current United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, ‘We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent – starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists.’

Some educators, such as the University of Sydney, have a STEMM program – the additional M denoting the study of medicine, which also includes nursing. This is very appropriate as both nurses and medical doctors study science and technology and then apply them in their everyday work.

For close to 58 years, Australian Church Women (ACW) has supported and promoted gender equality for women and girls in STEMM fields.

The Winifred Kiek Scholarship program has also sponsored women who undertook further study in nursing, and ACW’s affiliation with the Fellowship of the Least Coin and the Asian Church Women’s Conference means that ACW members can contribute to grants that allow women and girls to study and participate in various STEMM projects around the globe, particularly in countries with a low economic status.

Many of our ACW members have worked in various areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, and they have experienced first-hand the prejudice, restrictions and gender earning gaps for women that have existed, and continue to exist, for those working in these disciplines. In the ACW records, many profiles have been written over the years to honour Australian Church Women, and several of these women worked in STEMM sectors. In this blog post, I have adapted the ACW profile that honours a missionary doctor from New South Wales; she was Dr Juliet Nancy Backhouse MB BS (Syd), Dip TM&H, Dip Ger, FRACGP.

Dr Juliet Backhouse

Juliet graduated from Sydney University in 1947 after studying medicine. She worked in several Sydney hospitals for five years before leaving Australia and sailing for what was then Tanganyika, now the United Republic of Tanzania, in 1952. She was only 27 years old.

At primitive hospitals, she began to practise a very high standard of medicine with limited resources, managing many difficult problems for which she had received no specific training. Dr Backhouse worked as physician and surgeon, gynaecologist and obstetrician in isolated bush hospitals where she was absolutely committed to her patients’ welfare. It was said she could diagnose a condition from the doorway!

From 1952 to 1966, Juliet worked in the Church Missionary Society hospitals of Kilimatinde, Berega and Mvumbi; in Moshi at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre from 1972 to 1974; and at the Professional Unit in Dodoma from 1974 to 1976. During her earlier years, she was the only medically qualified person within a vast area and had to deal with every medical and surgical emergency at all hours of the day and night. As well, she had to manage staffing, administration, equipment, maintenance and building supervision. She often gave the anaesthetic prior to performing the operation. She had a special love for children and couldn’t bear to see them suffer.

Her compassion for the people of Africa was motivated by a desire to share the Love of God and Jesus’ message of reconciliation, which she had experienced in her own life. Juliet went as a warm human being to those who were suffering. She showed this love, not so much with words but with actions. She was, however, not lacking in words – she was a gifted linguist who spent time teaching Swahili to many young workers new to the field. She was also involved in editorial work in the field of African Christian Literature. She went to Africa in response to Jesus’ command to heal the sick. Juliet neither counted the cost nor sought reward.

Then, back in Australia, she became a full-time Medical Officer in several hospitals in Victoria involved in Geriatric and Rehabilitation work. This continued in country New South Wales and, in 1984, she became the Staff Geriatrician at the Hornsby-Kuring-gai Geriatric and Rehabilitation Service.

Juliet did several locums, even going back to Tanzania for three months in 1987. In retirement, she taught English to migrant groups.

It was in the latter years of her life that the late Deaconess Mary Andrews brought Juliet along to be part of the Anglican representation on Australian Church Women at the NSW State Unit. Although she did not hold office, this same caring, compassionate lady gave herself humbly and quietly to the Unit. She would be there at ‘packing days’ and found alongside people helping and encouraging them. Juliet died in 1997 at the young age of 72.

Dr Juliet Backhouse was one of those who enriched the NSW Unit of ACW and will be remembered for her deep abiding love of the Lord Jesus Christ whom she served faithfully.

In our Honouring Australian Church Women book there are at least 16 ACW members with professional careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine:

  • One was a medical doctor who served overseas as a missionary – this was Dr Juliet Backhouse.

  • Seven were qualified in nursing and three served as missionaries overseas.

  • Two were awarded a science degree prior to becoming teachers.

  • One was a Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Queensland.

  • Two laboratory assistants with one working on the Salk Vaccine at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne. []

  • Two were pharmacists in Australia and overseas.

  • One certified practising accountant.

Many more members of ACW who do not appear in our Honours book had STEMM careers, and they are all significant women for whom we give thanks for their life and service.

Currently, ACW has a semi-retired paediatrician, retired lab assistant with a science degree, and retired architectural/structural draftswoman on their national executive. Traditionally, ACW has had a good proportion of members who are retired or in their more mature years, as it is not always practical for working women and women with families to join organisations such as ACW until retirement or their families are less dependent.


I’m sure that many of you will be familiar with the Christian Jungle Doctor books by Paul White, the Australian missionary doctor. Juliet appears in Jungle Doctor’s Progress, and there are several photos of her at work in Tanganyika. The publishers of the 2017 edition have placed this book online as an e-book, and it can be read at

The first mention of Juliet is on page 275.

If anyone has a better photo than the one that accompanies this post, and they have permission to share it, we would appreciate being able to use it to enhance Juliet’s profile in the ACW Honours book.


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This Herstory Blog of Australian Church Women Inc. tells the stories of the women and activities of this national Christian organisation that was founded in February 1965.

Stories that inspired and encouraged me to begin this blog and share their inspiration with you. Stories that need to be told so that the women of ACW can be honoured and celebrated for their achievements and experiences in local, national and international communities of faith. And, most importantly, stories that demonstrate being disciples of Jesus Christ firmly underpins all that Australian Church Women represents.

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