A group fighting gender-based workplace discrimination submitted a petition to the labor ministry Monday calling for a ban on dress codes that force women to wear high heels at work.

The petition with 18,856 signatures presented by Yumi Ishikawa, the leader of the group working as part of the #KuToo movement, calls on the government to ban companies from requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace, citing health and other issues.

(Yumi Ishikawa)

"This is just the first step," the 32-year-old actress and writer said at a press conference after submitting the petition.

"This is a problem that many women believed was a personal issue because (wearing high heels) is generally seen as good etiquette," Ishikawa.

The submission coincides with the start of graduate recruitment screening by companies in Japan, during which many female applicants wear high heels.

The petition to fight gender-based dress codes was born from the #KuToo movement initiated by Ishikawa on Twitter -- an amalgam of "#MeToo," and the Japanese words for shoes, "kutsu," and pain, "kutsuu."

The movement began in January when Ishikawa, who works part time at a funeral parlor, tweeted about her frustration with the dress code, which stipulated that women had to wear high heels. The original tweet received over 67,000 likes and nearly 30,000 retweets.

A 22-year-old female university student, another member of the group, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was not opposed to high heels.

"But I believe formal flats should become less unnatural," she said.

Wearing high heels could adversely affect health, she said, referring to older women she had met who could no longer wear certain types of shoes. Their feet had changed shape from being forced to wear high heels in the office when they were young.

"Ideally we'd like a new law, as I believe this is an urgent issue," Ishikawa said. "I'd like social perceptions to change so that women wearing formal flat shoes becomes standard."

(Image photo of #KuToo campaign.)[Supplied photo]

Ishikawa said an official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry told her it was the first time the ministry had received "this many voices" demanding a ban on dress codes that force women to wear high heels.

"But we were also repeatedly told how difficult enacting a law to counter gender harassment and discrimination can be," she said.

Japan has a law to prohibit gender-based discrimination during certain phases of employment such as recruitment, promotion, training and renewal of contracts, but there is no reference to dress codes, she said.

Similar movements have sprung up in other countries in recent years. In Britain, a receptionist at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers began an online petition after she was sent home without pay for not wearing 5 to 10 centimeter high heels in 2015.

At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France, Julia Roberts and many other actresses walked the red carpet barefoot or in sneakers after a number of women were barred from entering a screening for not wearing high heels the year before.