Yumi Ishikawa, a 32-year-old model and actress, made a revolutionary movement that started from her tweet back in January. She believes that employers in Japan should not be allowed to require women to wear high heels to work. The tweet has caused such a stir as it had been retweeted thousands of times and comments were flooding in from other women whose feet and backs were aching.
Being a writer as well, Ishikawa seized the momentum and created the hashtag #KuToo — a clever combination of the Japanese words for shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu) with a gentle nod to the #MeToo movement.
While #MeToo has taken off in parts of Asia, the movement hasn’t quite had its moment in Japan. But a snowballing #KuToo campaign shows women in the country are pushing back against what they see as major inequality in the workplace. Ishikawa also took this movement even further as she launched a petition on change.org calling on the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to explicitly forbid employers from requiring women to wear certain types of shoes.
“I thought, if there are so many people who feel the same, why not start some sort of movement,” Ishikawa tells TIME.
Her petition has gathered more than 15,000 signatures as per recent, which is well on its way to the target of 25,000. The campaign also ignited passionate online discourse, as many women began posting photos of bruises and blisters on their toes or detailing discomfort and pain. Some of the responses that second her opinion on Twitter such as,
“It’s not about liking the shoes or not,”
“I want this society to be one where people have the freedom to wear whatever shoes they like.”
Despite the positive feedback from a lot of people, the movement also received backlash arguing that requiring women to wear heels is no different from requiring men to wear leather shoes. Though the conversation of the issue regarding women required to wear high heels is just beginning, and change may be a long time coming.
Since the start of her campaign, Ishikawa said she hasn’t received any response from private companies or from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The ministry has not yet responded to TIME’s request for comment.
Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, said the popularity of #KuToo marks the first wide-scale pushback against deeply-held traditions about what women should look like in Japan’s workplaces. There may be more of a willingness to challenge gender inequality in Japan in the wake of a recent scandal over medical universities manipulating the scores of female applicants to lower their chances of acceptance, she said.
“Before this, women had to be creative to make pumps more comfortable, like making new soles or shoe pads more cushy,” Miura told TIME by phone, “but this movement is saying that this is a social problem, not a women’s problem.”