Japanese women kick back at high-heels with #KuToo

03 June 2019 - 14:30 By AFP
Japanese women are petitioning the government to ban employers from forcing them to wear high heels at work.
Japanese women are petitioning the government to ban employers from forcing them to wear high heels at work.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

A group of Japanese women on Monday submitted a petition to the country's government to protest what they say is a compulsory requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work.

The #KuToo campaign - a play on words from the Japanese word "kutsu" (meaning shoes) and "kutsuu" (pain) - quickly won support from nearly 19,000 people online after it was launched by actress and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa.

Campaigners say wearing high heels is seen as obligatory when job hunting or working at many Japanese companies.

"Today we submitted a petition calling for the introduction of laws banning employers from forcing women to wear heels as sexual discrimination or harassment," Ishikawa told reporters after meeting labour ministry officials.

'The first step forward'

A ministry official who met her "was a woman and sympathetic to our petition ... and told us that this is the first time voices of this kind reached the ministry," said Ishikawa, adding that the petition was "the first step forward" towards achieving their goal.

Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment on the petition.

Ishikawa was prompted to launch the campaign after a tweet she posted earlier this year  complaining about being required to wear heels for a hotel job went viral.

"As I realised that so many people face the same problem, I decided to launch the campaign," she said of #KuToo, which comes hot on the heels of the global anti-harassment campaign #MeToo.

Some campaigners have compared high heels to foot-binding, while others have called for all workplace dress codes in Japan, such as the near-total donning of business suits for men, to be relaxed.

A global controversy

In 2015, the director of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France apologised after a controversy blew up over women being denied access to red-carpet events for not wearing high heels.

But Cannes kept the dress code, despite a protest by Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts, who went barefoot the next year.

In 2017, the Canadian province of British Columbia banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels, calling the practice dangerous and discriminatory.