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

Sayantani Nath


Image Credits: Japan Times

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.

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.

Also Read: Socks & Towels From Bamboo? IIT-Graduate Duo Makes It Possible

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