efe-epaBy Maria Roldan. Tokyo

Tired of foot pain, bleeding toes and difficulty walking from wearing heels, a Japanese woman has unleashed a crusade to get the government to ban them from the workplace, which has spurred a wave of cyberbullying against her.

The movement emerged spontaneously, propelled by the global reach of the internet after 32-year-old model and actress Yumi Ishikawa posted a message on Twitter describing the suffering of wearing heels everyday as per the dress code of her part-time job at a funeral parlor.

The overwhelming response to her post led Ishikawa to create the hashtag #KuToo, a play on the Japanese words "kutsu" (shoe) and "kutsuu" (pain), and a reference to the global #MeToo movement, as well as a petition on Change.org, asking Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to ban dress codes – established by some companies in the absence of regulation – that require women to wear high heels at work.

The petition has received over 29,500 signatures of the 35,000 required and has already been presented to the ministry, where it is being taken seriously, a spokesperson of the ministry's Equal Employment Opportunity Division told Efe in an email.

However, the government's response to the matter does not convince the #KuToo founder.

"They want to resolve it not as a problem of gender discrimination, but as a problem of abuse of power" at the workplace," Ishikawa tells Efe in an interview.

Beyond the anecdotes of wearing heels to work, the aim of #KuToo is to make the world "realize the small acts of gender discrimination that exist and say 'No,' to make people reflect," says Ishikawa, adding it was especially important in a society where, in many instances, aesthetic beauty takes precedence.

Although it has been proved that wearing heels can cause hip pain, can contribute to knee osteoarthritis, lead to bunions and inflammation in the metatarsals owing to excessive localized pressure over the forefoot, in many companies it is considered mandatory.

Over 60 percent of Japanese women have had to wear heels as part of their companies' dress code or during job interviews, or know someone forced to do so, and over 80 percent say they have had health problems from wearing heels, according to a survey conducted by Business Insider Japan and published in June.

"Even now the idea that women should look beautiful even when they are at work prevails. That's why women have a tough time getting away from that perception of beauty of being 'young and beautiful' that exists in Japan," adds Ishikawa, pointing out that the problem goes beyond heels.

What emerged as an iconic movement for some and trivial one for others has spurred a campaign of cyberbullying against the model.

When #KuToo came into prominence, the network was flooded with nude images of the model, who has been part of several erotic films and photo shoots and is still working as a nude model.

"While there have been jobs where I have taken off my clothes without having a choice (in the matter), there are others where I have done so of my own free will. I love my nudity and I want to express it (...), because I know that although I strip, I don't lose my rights," the Japanese woman says firmly.

"In Japan it is said that 'women who have stripped have no human rights,' so they seem to believe that spreading nude pictures of me is an attack," says Ishikawa, who believes that the fact that a woman is harassed when she talks about sexism is proof that gender discrimination is a problem.

Just by talking about "sex discrimination" and saying they want to change it "they are strongly criticized, they are attacked, which eventually ends up becoming discrimination. It's a very common pattern," says the model, who believes that "maybe the problem is that (those people) don't want to acknowledge that what they're doing is discriminatory. They don't want to admit that there is discrimination in Japan."

"I've been branded a whore simply for saying that I want to wear the same shoes as men or that this is a gender discrimination problem," says Ishikawa, who acknowledges that she has left her job "out of fear," because when the movement gained fame the atmosphere worsened.

#KuToo has a "certain component of #MeToo" and its strength "lies in the fact that its not a movement that I, alone, am driving but that it has the support of many people. They have just allowed me to ride that wave," the model signs off, downplaying her role in the movement.EFE

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