Heels off, specs on: Japanese women take the dress-code fight forward

The #KuToo movement continues the fight against strict dress codes at work. Photo by Baylee Gramling
The #KuToo movement continues the fight against strict dress codes at work. Photo by Baylee Gramling

Yumi Ishikawa is the founder of Japan's #KuToo movement, a viral backlash against mandatory high heels in the workplace. Now, she's stepping up her fight against strict dress codes in general, in particular, bans on glasses.

The Japanese #KuToo movement has made international headlines for its efforts to draw attention to women being required to wear high heels at work.  

#KuToo is reportedly a play on the Japanese words “kutsu”, meaning shoe, and “kutsuu”, meaning pain.

READ MORE: High heels, eyeliner and wigs - these and other items were originally made for men

Japanese women took to social media once again to insist on the right to wear spectacles at work after after reports that the employers were forcing women to wear contact lenses alongside makeup and stipulating hair colour. For Yumi, it all amounts to workplace harassment. 

"I used to walk with those shoes and blood came out of my little toe everyday, then I realised men were not wearing those shoes. I realised there were gender differences in clothing, we were supposed to wear something that could hurt us," says Yumi.  

The labour ministry in Japan drafted guidelines in October against workplace harassment, nowhere was the issue mentioned of employers dictating how female employees should dress.

Yumi and other activists announced that they had submitted papers to the government, calling the dress code to be included under the new guidelines, which are expected to be finalised in December 2019.

READ MORE: People are being warned by doctors to stay away from these Steve Madden flatforms because of foot injuries

This movement started with a petition to the Japanese ministry of health, labour and welfare by Yumi earlier this year, who took to Twitter to share her concerns, while inviting signatures.

In her post, Yumi highlighted the issue of men and women who work at the same place, yet have different dress code requirements, with women’s dress criteria being harmful to their health.

Speaking to Bloomberg’s Tic Toc earlier this year, Yumi said she worked part time at a funeral parlour where she is required to wear high-heeled pumps as tall as 5 to 7 centimetres.

Yumi led women in Japan to hand over the signed petition against the requirement that was, at times, times obligatory for women to wear high heels.

After the worldwide media attention to this cause and receiving the petition, the ministry of health, labour and welfare in Japan responded.

READ MORE: “A man offered me R1 000 to sniff my feet, when I was trying to sell worn shoes online”

According to Reuters, the health minister Takumi Nemoto, said: “I think it’s within the range of what’s commonly accepted as necessary and appropriate in the workplace.”

Nemoto also says an exception would be if employers required a woman who had been injured to wear high heels, which could then be considered “power harassment”.

Reuters reports that the Japanese health ministry has since said it was reviewing the petition, which has amassed more than 20 000 online signatures.

In an interview with AFP, Yumi says “I hope this campaign will change the social norm so that it won’t be considered to be bad manners when women wear flat shoes like men”.

Unfortunately, Japan’s restrictive dress requirements for women happens to be a universal issue.

W24 previously reported on the dangers of wearing high heels, particularly involuntarily, when Louise Ferreira relayed her experience of injuring her knee while in stilettos, and how more women are sartorially restricted in order to do their job.

Other unfortunate anecdotes include London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from PwC for refusing to wear heels and Canadian waitress was told to continue working in heels, her feet bleeding after losing a toenail during her shift.

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