Japanese activists urge changes to anti-harassment code

A group of Japanese women submitted a petition to the government to protest what they say is a de-facto requirement for female staff to wear high heels at work. The online campaign #KuToo, using a pun from a Japanese word "kutsu" - that can mean either "s

Yumi Ishikawa's feet bled after a day in the high heels required by her job, a memory that led her and other Japanese activists to demand on Tuesday that forcing women to wear certain items be treated as workplace harassment.

Japanese women took to social media in November to insist on the right to wear spectacles at work after reports that employers were imposing bans, the latest outcry against strict office dress codes that included forcing women to wear high heels, stockings and makeup, and even stipulating what colour hair they can have.

The labour ministry drafted guidelines in October against workplace harassment - known as "power harassment" or "power hara", but failed to address the issue of employers dictating how female employees should dress.

"You might think this is nothing, but the fact is that some peoples' lives have been changed because of these rules," Ishikawa, an actress and activist, told a Tuesday news conference.

"People have hurt themselves wearing high heels ... and all of these people are women. If we're working the same jobs, we have the right to work under the same conditions."

Just hours before, Ishikawa and other activists submitted papers to the labour ministry calling for such dress codes to be seen as power harassment under the new guidelines, expected to be finalised this month.

Ishikawa earlier this year began the #KuToo protest movement, sparked by her own memories of being forced to wear 7-cm (2.8-inch) heels at a job at a funeral parlour as well as numerous similar stories from other women.

The movement, whose name plays on the Japanese words for "shoe" and "pain," swelled into a viral outcry on social media about women being forced to wear high heels. More than 31,000 people have to date signed an online petition against it.

At the time, one cabinet minister said dress code expectations were "necessary and appropriate" at the workplace, though several have since commented that the reports of women being forced to wear contact lenses instead of spectacles at work appeared to violate gender equality rules.

"That's why it was such a shock to not have anything about this in the draft anti-harassment guidelines," she said.

"I wonder a bit why we've worked so hard but accomplished so little." 

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