International Asia Japanese women step up against discrimination with #KuToo, a campaign against high-heels...

Japanese women step up against discrimination with #KuToo, a campaign against high-heels in the workplace

Yumi shared her rant against employees having to wear high heels on Twitter and set up a hashtag, #KuToo, a clever pun on the two Japanese words, "kutsu" for "shoe" and "kutsuu" for "pain

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Yumi Ishikawa, a 32-year old writer and actress, got tired of the senseless enforcement of high-heeled shoes for working women. She realized just how painful and uncomfortable it is for women to wear such shoes when she took a part-time job as a receptionist for a funeral parlour. She had to stand for long hours and walk around welcoming people, all while wearing 5-to 7-cm high-heeled shoes as required by the company.

Ms. Ishikawa wearing flat shoes in protest.

She noticed that her male colleagues wore flat shoes that made it easier for them to walk and work. She shared her rant on Twitter and set up a hashtag, #KuToo, a clever pun on the two Japanese words, “kutsu” for “shoe” and “kutsuu” for “pain.” The hashtag has now taken a life of its own on social media, trending on Japanese twitter and getting picked up by international news outlets.

Additionally, Ms Ishikawa has set up an online petition to ban the forced wearing of high heels for women in the workplace. The petition titled “Don’t force women to wear high-heeled [sic] at work!” has gained more than 27,000 signatures out of the targeted 35,000 signatures as of June 11.

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In the petition, she cited how several countries have an outright ban on the  mandatory enforcement of high heels in company dress codes. Prolonged wearing of high-heeled shoes have been proven to cause health problems. Such countries include the United Kingdom, parts of Canada, and the Philippines.

To raise more awareness about the #KuToo movement outside of social media, Ms Ishikawa and other volunteers organized an event in Tokyo in which men are asked to walk and work while wearing high-heeled shoes.

The event posed the question, “Is job hunting in sneakers acceptable?” Many men who participated shared their uncomfortable and painful experience as they walked in women’s shoes, literally.

One of the men, a shoe maker named Jun Ito, said that he would be “quite annoyed” about wearing the shoes for the whole day which made him “feel unstable and [his] feet got sweaty,” according to a report by the Japan Times.

Ms Ishikawa continues her protest against discriminatory dress codes. She filed the results of the online petition to Japan’s Health Labor and Welfare Ministry last June 3, just in time for job application season. The petition aims to cull support from the government to ban mandatory high-heel dress codes in companies.

Unfortunately, labor minister Takumi Nemoto opposed the petition, citing traditional views that high heels are “necessary and reasonable in workplaces.”

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Netizens and supporters of the petition argued that besides being an issue of social acceptance, high-heeled shoes can be hazardous to women working in earthquake-prone Japan. A disaster can strike at any time, and women have to rush to safety wearing wobbly high-heeled shoes making them more likely to get injured.

While Japan has laws that aim to combat gender discrimination in the workplace in terms of recruitment, learning opportunities, and promotion, Ms Ishikawa said that the current law does not cover dress codes. With the #KuToo movement, she aims to change that and contribute to Japanese women’s growing dissent against sexism and harassment in their society./TISG

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