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Editorial: #KuToo campaign reminds us it's time to smash the high-heel social norm

A drive to reject dress codes forcing women to wear high heels at work is spreading. The campaign is called #KuToo, a variation on the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment campaign, and is also a pun on the Japanese words "kutsu" (shoes) and "kutsuu" (pain).

The drive was triggered this past January when a woman took to social media to question why only women are forced to wear high-heel shoes at work. Her position won support primarily from women also suffering pain and even injury from wearing high heels. A petition urging that employers be banned from forcing their female employees to wear high heels on the job collected nearly 19,000 signatures, and has been filed with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Unfortunately, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto apparently did not sympathize with these calls. In a Diet session, the labor minister failed to make a clear-cut statement on the issue, saying things like, "It depends on whether such requirements are necessary and appropriate in light of social norms."

Many overseas media outlets reported that the Japanese labor minister approves of dress codes mandating elevated footwear for ladies. However, the heart of the problem is that the man in charge of overseeing the Japanese government's labor policies cited social norms and customs as evaluation criteria.

The Japanese social norm that women should have feminine traits and fulfill their duty as mothers, as well as the customs based on such ideas, have obviously delayed achieving gender equality in this country. If these norms are built on a foundation of accumulated ignorance and prejudice, it is the role of the administrative branch to rectify them.

Shoes are closely linked to the health and safety of the people wearing them. According to a survey conducted by Living Kurashi How Institute Inc., approximately 82% of women working full-time have leg and foot problems. Of them, 45% cited deformation of their feet or toes such as bunions.

In particular, many in customer service jobs are required to wear high heels. For example, female flight attendants at a major Japanese airline must wear 3-5 centimeter pumps at all times, even when serving on international flights that last for more than 10 hours.

In contrast, medical product manufacturer Johnson & Johnson K.K. is recommending that prospective employees wear casual shoes when interviewing with the firm. The company sells bandages for shoe sores, but is advising students to try to avoid the painful sores altogether during job hunting. The company has joined hands with a major department store in recommending sneakers that match business suits, and is encouraging personnel divisions at other companies to do the same.

Such down-to-earth efforts by the private sector to change social norms have a strong influence on society. Members of the general public should join the effort to break the fixed idea that women must wear high heels.

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