Japanese women campaigning to stop wearing heels at work

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor

Almost 20,000 Japanese women have signed a petition against companies forcing them to wear high heels at work.

Japan, ranked 110 out of 149 countries in the world in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index, is notorious for its company dress codes requiring women to wear high heels.

While there are some exceptions in new media industries, many companies including banking and legal firms require their female employees to wear high heels.

A petition to change this culture was started by Yumi Ishikawa, a feminist writer and artist based in Tokyo.

In a press conference earlier this week, Ishikawa submitted her petition to the Japanese government.

Writer Yumi Ishikawa's online campaign against high heels quickly won support from nearly 19,000 people online. [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: Women are buying more trainers than heels for the first time ever

She has coined the hashtag #KuToo – a pun on the #MeToo movement again sexual harassment – to refer to her movement.

It’s a play on two Japanese words: “kutsu”, the word for shoes, and “kutsuu”, the word for pain.

In a viral Twitter thread, which has received almost 70,000 likes at times of writing, Ishikawa spoke of her own experience of suffering an injury while wearing heels – forcing her to quit her job.

Ishikawa’s tweets reads: “I want to get rid of the custom that forces women to wear high heels or pumps at work.

Yumi Ishikawa (second from left), leader and founder of the KuToo movement, is flanked by supporters as she delivers a speech during a press conference in Tokyo on June 3, 2019. [Photo: Getty]

“Once when I was working in a hotel for a month, and because of the pumps I injured my feet and had to quit my job.

READ MORE: Japanese bar offers women a drink discount depending on the height of their heels

“Why do we have to suffer injuries to our feet while working, men get to wear flat shoes.”

At present, it seems there is little change on the horizon, with an official at Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's equal employment opportunity division telling CNN there are “no plans” to change the rules.

"If common sense or ideas about manners in society change, the rules might be subject to change," said the official.

How does the UK compare?

In the UK, while most workplace dress codes permit women to wear flat shoes, legally things are not much different.

In 2015, Nicola Thorp, a 27-year-old from London, was sent home from her temping job at PwC for turning up to the company’s headquarters in flat shoes.

“The supervisor [from Portico, a company that PwC outsources its reception services to] told me that I would be sent home without pay unless I went to the shop and bought a pair of two to four inch heels. I refused and was sent home,” she told Evening Standard at the time.

In April 2017, the UK government refused to pass a law banning companies from requiring women to wear high heels – claiming there was already “adequate” protection under the Equality Act 2010.

READ MORE: High heels for babies are here — and parents aren’t happy

Elsewhere in Europe, the high heels debate continues to crop up at Cannes Film Festival, where in 2015 a group of women in their 50s were turned away from a premiere for wearing flat shoes on the red carpet.

Meanwhile, earlier this year it emerged airline Norwegian Air requires its female flight attendants to wear a doctor’s note to justify not wearing heels.

A year after the debacle, Julia Roberts turned up to the Cannes premiere of ‘Money Monster’ barefoot in protest, while in 2018, Kristen Stewart did the same.

However, there has been legal precedence set for law changes elsewhere in the world. In 2017, the government of British Columbia ruled that dress codes requiring women to wear high heels pose a risk to health and safety, as well as being discriminatory.