Japan’s Minister of Labor Takumi Nemoto defended employers who demand that women wear high heels, describing the practice as both “necessary and appropriate” on Wednesday.
Nemoto made the remarks after a group of women handed his ministry a petition that demanded the government prohibit workplaces from requiring women staff and prospective employees to wear high heels.
“It is socially accepted as something that falls with the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate,” Nemoto told a legislative committee on Wednesday. “It’s [only an] abuse of power if a worker with a hurt foot is forced to wear high heels.”
Nemoto was responding to a question from Kanako Otsuji, a member of the left-wing opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who argued forcing women to wear high heels at work is “outdated.”
The petition, submitted to the labor ministry on Tuesday, forms part of a campaign entitled dubbed #KuToo, a play on the Western anti-sexual harassment movement #MeToo. The phrase is also a play on words in the Japanese language, with “kutsu” meaning shoes, “kutsuu” translating as “pain.”
The movement was originally spearheaded by the Japanese actress and writer Yumi Ishikawa, who launched the petition after being forced to wear high heels while working at a funeral parlor. The petition quickly grew momentum on social media, garnering 18,800 signatures by the time it was handed in.
“This is just the first step. This is a problem that many women believed was a personal issue because [wearing high heels] is generally seen as good etiquette,” said Ishikawa. “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.”
Japan is not the only country that has seen a campaign against high heels. In 2016, receptionist Nicola Thorp set up a petition calling for a change to British labor laws after she was sent home by her company, PWC. The government ultimately rejected her proposals, although she was eventually allowed to wear flat shoes.
In April 2017, the Canadian province of British Columbia amended workplace legislation to ban employers from forcing women to wear high heels, with lawmaker Christy Clark describing it as “regulation [that will] stop this unsafe and discriminatory practice.”