A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally against sexual harassment in Tokyo in April 2018.
Hong Kong CNN  — 

A Japanese tabloid apologized Tuesday for issuing a ranking of women’s universities based on the alleged willingness of female students to engage in sex while at drinking parties.

“We would like to apologize for using sensational language to appeal to readers about how they can become intimate with women and for publishing a ranking, with real university names, that resulted in a feature that may have made our readers uncomfortable,” the tabloid’s editorial department said in a statement obtained by CNN.

The article in Spa! referred to a practice known as “gyaranomi” – drinking parties where men pay women to attend. The article alleged that these parties were popular among female university students and spoke with an app developer who aimed to help both men and women find attendees for such parties, according to local media reports.

Published in 2018 in Spa! magazine, the list sparked outrage, with one woman launching a change.org petition to seek an apology and a suspension of the magazine’s sales.

“I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop,” wrote Kazuna Yamamoto, the petition’s creator.

“2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered. Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects,” Yamamoto added.

Her petition had garnered over 38,000 signatures by Wednesday.

#MeToo in Japan

The scandal comes amid a growing international conversation about sexual abuse against women. Though Japan remains a traditionally male-dominated society, campaigns such as #MeToo have helped to spotlight gender equality and sexual abuse.

A Japanese medical school allegedly rigged university exams to keep women out in August 2018, and in 2017, Shiori Ito, a Japanese journalist broke the nation’s taboo around rape, when she publicly spoke out about her own experience.

Japan is ranked at 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest global gender gap index measuring the degree of gender equality.

The country also ranks bottom among the G7 countries for gender equality, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge to empower working women through a policy called “womenomics.”