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Labor minister opposes banning dress codes in Japan that force women to wear high heels

Kyodo, AP

The labor minister has indicated he will not support a drive to ban dress codes that force women to wear high heels at work.

Employees’ health and safety need to be protected, but work is varied, said Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto, who oversees the country’s workplace reforms.

“It’s generally accepted by society that (wearing high heels) is necessary and reasonable in workplaces,” Nemoto said during a Diet committee session on Wednesday.

His comments came after a group working against gender-based workplace discrimination submitted a petition with 18,800 signatures to the labor ministry on Monday calling for the government to ban companies from requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace, citing health and other issues.

The group, led by actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa, is part of the #KuToo movement — an amalgamation of #MeToo and the Japanese words for shoes, kutsu, and pain, kutsū.

Actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa has submitted a petition to the labor ministry calling for a ban on dress codes that force women to wear high heels at work. | KYODO
Actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa has submitted a petition to the labor ministry calling for a ban on dress codes that force women to wear high heels at work. | KYODO

Nemoto was responding to Kanako Otsuji, a member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who said forcing women to wear high heels at work is “outdated.”

While Otsuji stressed that a dress code applied only to women amounts to harassment, Nemoto said it’s only “abuse of power if a worker with a hurt foot is forced (to wear high heels).”

However, Emiko Takagai, a senior vice minister for Nemoto, said during the same session she does not believe women should be forced to wear high heels.

Ishikawa said the #KuToo movement is a way to raise awareness about sexism.

“It’s the view that appearances are more important for women at work than for men.”

Like when wearing makeup on their face, a girl’s legs look better in heels, she said sarcastically, her feet in blue sneakers.

Japan placed 110th in the latest World Economic Forum ranking on gender equality, which benchmarks 149 nations on their treatment of women based on measures such as educational attainment and health hazards.

Women elsewhere, including in the U.S., Canada and Europe, have also protested dress and makeup requirements and having to wear heels. The red carpet at Cannes, infamous for its strict dress code, has seen celebrities walking barefoot in defiance of it.

Ishikawa said she hoped to win fashion designers over to the idea of making more comfortable footwear that’s acceptable as formal wear.

“Shoes are so everyday,” she said. “People can more directly see the issues of people’s dignity and rights, and so shoes may lead to a better world.”

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