Women have come forward to tell their story but Japanese people have remained slow to embrace the #MeToo movement. Lack of legal protection, combined with cultural pressure to accept and bear one’s hardship, makes young women vulnerable, according to activists.
A recent study again shows the extent of the problem: more than one in 10 companies in Japan have formal regulations about the length of heeled shoes female workers are forced to wear.
Some 57 percent of those polled also said their employer had regulations that stipulate the clothing workers are required to wear or other restrictions relating to their appearance, according to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation.
Such rules were found to be highest in the hotel and food profession where 87 percent of employees said they had to follow rules around clothing and appearance. Some 71 percent of workers in the financial and insurance industry said they were subject to equivalent regulations.
Over a third of respondents, however, argued that employers have divergent rules in place for men and Women which “can’t be helped.” Only 12 percent of respondents argued such procedures were “inappropriate,” the study shows.
There are, therefore, little wonder that the hashtag #KuToo – echoing the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment – has been widely disseminated on social media, even though progress remains slow.
The phrase is a play on the Japanese words for shoes “kutsu” and pain “kutsuu.”
Jacqui Hunt, of Equality Now, a non-government organization which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, told the BBC that the rules are “a manifestation of sexist and stereotyped views on how women should look and behave, and exemplifies the type of sex-based discrimination that subordinates Women in the workplace.”
The situation is ironic as authorities have tried to build a more inclusive economy by tapping into women’s underutilized economic potential. Japan’s highly gendered corporate culture needs to evolve, she noted.