In Brief

Why Japanese women are taking a stand against high heels

Social media campaign against dress codes and expectations that women wear high heels at work has gone viral

Japanese women are taking a stand against strict dress codes and expectations they wear heels at work, after a social media campaign highlighting gender inequality in the workplace went viral.

More than 20,000 women have signed an online petition demanding the government ban companies from requiring female employees to wear high heels at work.

The #KuToo campaign, started by 32-year-old actress and freelance writer Yumi Ishikawa, is a play on the word for shoes, or “kutsu” in Japanese, and “kutsuu” or pain.

The Daily Telegraph reports that “some campaigners online have said high heels are akin to modern foot-binding while others urged other dress codes, such as the near-total donning of business suits for men, to be loosened in the Japanese workplace”.

CNN says “there are currently no laws that restrict companies from regulating employees’ work wear” and while many Japanese companies may not explicitly require female employees to wear high heels, “many women do so because of tradition and social expectations,” reports Reuters.

Citing this as an example of gender discrimination, Ishikawa told the news agency the campaign had received more attention from international media outlets than domestic ones, and there was a tendency in Japan to portray the issue as a health one, not a gender one.

“In recent years, campaigns such as #MeToo have brought Japan's gender inequality problems into the spotlight,” says CNN.

Japan is ranked at 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum's index measuring the degree of gender equality. The country also ranks bottom among the G7 countries for gender equality, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge to empower working women through a policy called “womenomics”.

Yet it is not just a problem unique to Japan. In 2016 a similar campaign was launched in the UK after Nicola Thorp was sent home from work from accountancy firm PwC for refusing to wear high heels.

Following coverage in the media, the BBC reports that outsourcing firm Portico who had hired Thorp announced that female colleagues could “wear plain flat shoes” with immediate effect.

However, while a subsequent parliamentary investigation into dress codes found discrimination in British workplaces, the government rejected a bill banning companies from requiring women to wear high heels.

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