Over 20,000 Japanese Women Sign #KuToo Petition To Ban Compulsory High Heels At Work

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Elegant, fashionable and appropriately formal – that is how high heels are advertised to working women. For most, it has become an integral element of their corporate jobs as their office dress codes mandate them to appear in high heel pumps and work around in those throughout the day.

Though high heels might reign in the style charts, almost all women across the world will unanimously agree that the shoes are extremely inconvenient, uncomfortable and painful if worn for prolonged hours. Doctors also recommend avoiding high heels as much as possible since it may lead to sprains, lower back pain, sore feet, nervous disorders and even crooked feet.

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The scenario is perhaps the worst in Japan, where almost all working women are instructed to wear high heels, irrespective of their job profile. Even though some firms do not have explicit mandates for the same, many women still wear heels to work to cater to social & professional expectations. However, nearly 20,000 Japanese women have recently signed an online petition titled #KuToo seeking a government ban on “requiring female employees to wear high heels on the job,” stated Reuters.

The campaign was started by Yumi Ishikawa

The campaign was launched by 32-year-old Yumi Ishikawa whose part-time job at a funeral parlour compelled her to wear high-heels. In Japanese, ‘Kutsu’ refers to shoes, and ‘Kutsuu’ means pain. The campaign name – #KuToo – blends both the words in alignment with the globally popular #MeToo campaign by women.

Ishikawa coined the hashtag while voicing her grievances in a tweet which soon went viral and were acknowledged by thousands of women in the country. Soon, it assumed the stature of a substantial campaign and a petition was launched which garnered 20,000+ signatories within a short time.

She mentioned in her petition appeal how high heels are responsible for feet disorders like bunions, blisters and even pain in the lower back. “It’s hard to move, you can’t run and your feet hurt. All because of manners,” she wrote in the petition. Ishikawa also revealed that almost all women inevitably change to comfortable shoes like sneakers or flats after work hours. She also alleged that the norms are lopsided since men are not mandated to any such painful dress diktats.

Japan health minister defends high heels as “necessary & appropriate”

Ishikawa has designated her campaign as a fight against gender discrimination. It is mention-worthy here despite unprecedented economic progress as a nation, Japan fares quite low in the gender-equality index of World Economic Forum. It has a deplorable rank of 110 among 149 countries.

The initial response from Japan’s Health and Labour minister Takumi Nemoto has delved quite an unexpected blow to the hopeful signatories, as he defended the norm of wearing high heels as “necessary and appropriate”, reported The Guardian. On June 5, Wednesday, while addressing the issue before a legislative committee, Nemoto said, “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.”

Previous protests – at Cannes & the UK

Incidentally, Japanese women are not the pioneers of the movement against high heels. In 2015, controversy brewed up at the popular Cannes Film Festival as women celebrities without high heels were denied access to the red carpet. Despite protests from Hollywood A-listers like Julia Roberts, Cannes has continued to maintain the inconvenient dress code.

In 2016, British woman Nicola Thorp launched a similar petition after her workplace refused her entry for denying to wear high heels. Though a parliamentary investigation was conducted on gender-discriminatory dress codes at workplaces, the British government rejected the bill which prohibited companies from demanding women to wear high heels to work.

Efforts For Good take

There was a time in the past when Japanese businessmen were compulsorily expected to wear neckties to the workplace. But, the government did away with the awkward norm in 2005, as a part of their ‘cool biz’ campaign to provide a comfortable dress code to male employees. However, the scenario for women regarding high heels has not changed, though high heels are medically way more harmful and uncomfortable than neckties.

Many of the petitioners are comparing the norm for high heels with the brutal medieval practice of foot-binding, or even the French norm of wearing crushing corsets to maintain a slender physique.

Efforts For Good hopes corporate firms across the world take cognisance of the grievances of their women employees and mustn’t overwhelm them with unnatural dress codes that can take a toll on their health.

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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