By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The actress who won the support of thousands of Japanese women for her #KuToo movement to stop bosses making women wear high heels to work said on Friday she is turning her attention to lookism - discrimination based on appearance.
Nearly 20,000 women in Japan this week joined the #KuToo movement and signed an online petition demanding the Japanese government ban companies from requiring female employees to wear high heels on the job.
Yumi Ishikawa, an actress and writer who started the drive, said she now wanted to "campaign against lookism" - prejudice based on appearance, especially where it is seen as falling short of a narrow social definition of attractiveness.
"Generally Japanese people, especially Japanese women, have very low self-esteem and that's regarded as good," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email from Tokyo.
"There's a culture in Japan in which people refer to other's appearances without hesitation."
Ishikawa said many Japanese people were held back by a lack of confidence in their appearance, something she wanted to change.
The 32-year-old launched the #KuToo campaign after tweeting about being forced to wear high heels for a part-time job at a funeral parlour - and drew an overwhelming response from women.
She said on Twitter in January she was required to wear 5-7 centimetre (2-3 inch) heels at work, causing her feet to hurt.
While many Japanese companies do not explicitly require female employees to wear high heels, many women do so because of tradition and social expectations.
Ishikawa said many women had contacted her to describe similar experiences after being forced to wear heels at work. Many had been forced to quit jobs where wearing heels was mandatory, she said.
"There have been many people who haven't been able to give their opinion - what they want - at their workplaces because here in Japan we don't have culture to do so to our bosses," she said. "In many cases, employers and employees are not equal."
Japan lags well behind other major industrialized nations when it comes to gender equality, ranking 110th of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap report.
More women have joined the workforce in recent years, but many are part-time workers.
The country's health minister responded to the campaign - a play on the Japanese words for shoe, "kutsu", and pain, "kutsuu" - by saying dress codes in the workplace were "necessary and appropriate".
Yet Ishikawa said some Japanese employers had done away with the requirement for wearing heels and allowed women to wear flat shoes after discussing the matter with their female workers.
"I'm glad to know more people are gradually being able to be free from these restrictions and work under the same conditions as men."
Ishikawa said both employers and employees needed to be become more aware of the laws governing equality in the workplace.
"There are too many people who don't know about these responsibilities and rights," she said.
"They should put more importance into education - companies should also be educated and controlled more, and also employees should be educated and told about their rights more."
(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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