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Gender-based dress codes run deep in Japan firms, unveil discrimination: survey

Yumi Ishikawa, front, and other signees of a petition seeking a ban on high heel dress codes, head to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward to submit the petition on June 3, 2019. (Mainichi/Satoko Nakagawa)

TOKYO -- Some 60% of respondents to a recent survey about workplace fashion by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, known as Rengo, said they are bound by company dress codes, exposing gender-based rules on clothing at many companies.

The results of the survey, conducted via the internet from Oct. 2 to 4 on 500 women and 500 men between the ages of 20 and 59 registered on online survey websites, were announced on Nov. 15.

Respondents who answered they are bound by "dress codes and regulations on appearances at work" stood at 57.1%. By occupation, 86.7% of people in the hotel and restaurant industry acknowledged the existence of such rules, followed by 71.4% in the financial and insurance businesses.

Furthermore, 22.6% of respondents said there "are different sets of rules on clothing for women and men," and people whose companies "have guidelines on the height of heels that women are allowed to wear" stood at 19.4%. When asked to answer if they are or aren't bound by rules such as "men have to wear suits and ties," "men cannot wear earrings" and "women have to put on makeup," 20-30% of respondents replied "yes" to each.

In the additional comment section, a person explained that their company demands "men have black hair and women have brown hair that does not stand out," as well as "men wear long pants and women wear skirts." Another respondent said their company only allows "women to wear silver uniforms and men to wear navy uniforms." A person at a company with no uniforms said men are forced to wear black garments while women have to wear either pink dresses or ones with floral patterns.

While 45.7% of respondents answered such regulations are determined by the rules of employment, 26.3% said dress codes are set by office regulations stipulated under such rules of employment. Up to 19.4% said some kind of punishment would be carried out if employees failed to abide by these rules.

When asked if it is necessary to have regulations on workplace fashion, 54.9% of respondents said "rules should be kept to a minimum," greatly exceeding those who answered "there should be some sorts of rules" at 14.7%. But when asked how they feel about gender-specific dress codes, 36.2% answered "it cannot be helped," well over the 12% who said "it doesn't make sense."

Rengo's move came after a drive to reject dress codes forcing women to wear high heels at work spread across Japan. 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).

Campaign initiator Yumi Ishikawa, an actress and writer, said the results of the survey "made visible the existence of women who are actually forced to wear high heels, and are even restricted to wearing heels of a certain height." She stated angrily, "There are so many women who end up working in dangerous shoes for good appearances or to display hospitality. The government does not seem to be interested in making a working environment friendly to all people."

Kumie Inoue, executive director of Rengo's Department of Gender and Employment Equality, commented, "At least 30% of people accept gender-specific rules on workplace fashion as something that cannot be helped. Society must change its perception on the issue. The U.K. bans employers from setting dress codes that discriminate against women. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare should include gender-discriminatory dress codes as a form of power harassment under its prevention guidelines."

Legal revisions requiring employers to implement measures against workplace harassment were passed in May. The labor ministry is currently creating guidelines on specific types of harassment.

(Japanese original by Satoko Nakagawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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