Campaigners urge government to ban employers from forcing footwear on female staff
A group of Japanese women have submitted a petition to the government to protest against what they say is a de facto requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work.
The KuToo campaign – a play on words from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain – was launched by the actor and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa and quickly won support online.
Campaigners said wearing high heels was considered to be near-obligatory when job hunting or working at many Japanese companies.
Ishikawa told reporters after meeting labour ministry officials: “Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment.”
The actor explained how a government official had told her she “was a woman and sympathetic to our petition … and told us that this is the first time voices of this kind had reached the ministry”.
“It’s the first step forward,” Ishikawa added.
Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
The case underlines what some experts say is a deep-seated problem with misogyny in Japan. Last year, an MP from Japan’s governing party said women should have multiple children. Women who preferred to remain single would become a burden on the state later in life, added Kanji Kato.
A tweet by Ishikawa earlier this year, complaining about the requirement to wear high heels for a hotel job, went viral, prompting her to launch the campaign.
She said in response to the global anti-sexual-harassment #MeToo movement: “As I realised that so many people face the same problem, I decided to launch the campaign.”
Campaigners said the shoes were akin to modern foot-binding. Others also urged that dress codes such as the near-ubiquitous business suits for men be loosened in the Japanese workplace.
A similar petition against high heels at work was signed by more than 150,000 people in the UK in support of the receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work for wearing flat shoes. She was told to go home by the City accountancy firm PwC on her first day as a temporary receptionist in May 2016 for refusing to wear 2-4in heels.
The case prompted an inquiry on workplace dress codes by a committee of MPs, which highlighted other cases in the UK where women were required to wear heels, even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.
However, the government refused to change the law, claiming scope for redress already existed under the Equality Act 2010.
In 2015 the director of the Cannes film festival apologised over women being denied access to the red carpet for not wearing high heels. Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by the actor Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.
In 2017, Canada’s British Columbia province banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, saying the practice was dangerous and discriminatory.
Earlier this year, Norwegian Air was widely criticised for requiring female cabin crew to carry a doctor’s note if they wanted to wear flat shoes. Ingrid Hodnebo, a women’s spokesperson for the country’s Socialist Left party, accused the airline of being stuck in the “Mad Men universe from the 1950s and 60s”.
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