By Melissa Locker for Fast Company
High heels are a pain in the neck—and the foot and the back and the legs for the people who have to wear them. Sure they can look good and feel empowering, but wearing the sky-high footwear should be a choice, not a requirement. And yet in many offices around the world women are forced to wear high heels as part of the office dress code.
In Japan, women are starting to fight back. Over 19,000 people have signed a petition calling on Japan to end dress code requirements that force women to wear heels in the workplace.
The petition was started by Yumi Ishikawa, who says she was made to wear high heels while working at a funeral parlor, the BBC reports. She took to Twitter to vent about being forced to wear heels, and her tweets struck a chord and went viral. That tweet helped ignite a campaign called #KuToo, which, as Kyodo News reports, cleverly references the #MeToo movement as well as the Japanese words for shoes (“kutsu”) and pain (“kutsuu”).
Ishikawa told reporters that the petition was submitted to Japan’s labor officials. The hope is that officials will ban mandatory heels in the workplace on the grounds that such requirements amount to sexual discrimination or harassment.
“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,” she told reporters.
So far, the Japanese government is unmoved by the petition. An official at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s equal employment opportunity division told CNN it had “no plans to change the rules around whether employers could require staff to wear certain clothes or shoes.” Currently, companies can regulate their employees’ work wear as they see fit, and in Japan’s historically patriarchal society, that means high heels (for now).
It’s not just Japan, though. After over 150,000 people signed a petition, the British government still rejected a ban on dress codes that required women to wear high heels in 2017 on the grounds that gender-based discrimination was already illegal and high heels were just a part of looking smart in the office. But that same year, British Columbia did away with a dress code that required female employees to wear high heels, citing the risk of physical injury from slipping or falling as well as possible damage to the feet, legs, and back.