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Japanese Women protest high heels

Nearly 20,000 women have signed an online petition demanding the government ban companies from requiring female employees to wear high heels on the job – an example of gender discrimination, says Yumi Ishikawa, who started the drive.

The KuToo campaign is a play on the word for shoes, or “kutsu” in Japanese, and “kutsuu” or pain.

Ishikawa, a 32-year-old actress and freelance writer, hopes the petition she submitted to the health ministry on Monday will lead to changes in the workplace and greater awareness about gender discrimination.

She launched the campaign after tweeting about being forced to wear high heels for a part-time job at a funeral parlor – and drew an overwhelming response from women.

“After work, everyone changes into sneakers or flats,” she wrote in the petition, adding that high heels can cause bunions, blisters and strain the lower back.

“It’s hard to move, you can’t run and your feet hurt. All because of manners,” she wrote, pointing out that men don’t face the same expectations.

While many Japanese companies may not explicitly require female employees to wear high heels, many women do so because of tradition and social expectations.

Ishikawa said her 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.

“We need people to realize that gender discrimination can show up in lots of small ways,” Ishikawa said, from how women are treated by their bosses to expectations that women will do all the housework and child-rearing even if they work.

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