Abolishment of Hojuje – Hyeonjeong Kim


▲Image: Campaign for abolition of hojuje. From 30 years of women’s movement, record of courage and solidarity.  Insoon Nam. The Women’s News. (https://www.womennews.co.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=118065)


Author: Hyeonjeong Kim

Editor: Minju Kim

The abolishment of ‘hojuje’ is highlighted as a significant event within the Korean women’s rights movement. The abolishment of this system was celebrated as guaranteeing women’s social rights, and encouraging Korean society to accept broader family formsHojuje, a former family register system in South Korea, used to record changes in the life status of Korean citizens, including events such as birth, marriage, death, etc, with hoju at the center. Hoju is commonly translated as “the head of the house”. While traditionally male seniors were ‘hoju’ or ‘the head of the house’, the language used to describe the life status of other family members depicted them as subordinates to ‘hoju’. For example, they were not only registered to hoju, but also expelled or separated from hoju if they went through a transition of family form. In this way, setting the standard of hoju – based upon male chauvinism and recording changes in family status according to that standard – had been criticized as sexist and a human rights violation.[1] 

Hojuje was problematic in a number of different ways. First of all, the system was accused of encouraging discrimination against women. Women were already at a disadvantage in society compared to men, due to the existing paternal lineage and patriarchal system. Yet hoju further dictated a succession rate in the order son-daughter (unmarried)-wife-mother-mother-in-law, meaning the law justifies discrimination of daughters or if more widely applied, female members in the family. This was also in line with the traditional family order, in which the son was ahead of the mother, and the grandson ahead of the grandmother. Scholars argue that the reason why men were preferred and treated more than women was due to this influence of the hojuje, based on paternalism. In addition, the system was criticized for systematically guaranteeing master-servant relationships in the family being based on paternal lineage. Furthermore, the system did not reflect various family types in modern society due to the increase in divorce and remarriage households. The hojuk (family register) of parents who had divorced children were written with red lines which gave whoever had access to hojuk a negative impression of people’s backgrounds. Having children from divorced families follow their fathers’ surnames and family clan caused confusion in their identity when they lived completely disconnected from their fathers or relatives. Remarried families were exposed of the fact of their remarriage due to different surnames of their stepfathers and children, and they could not receive practical support such as medical benefits.[2] 

There was a women’s movement for more than 50 years to abolish this hojujeSince the 1950s, when the hojuje was firstly introduced, women’s groups campaigned to revise the Family Law. When the Family Law was firstly completed in 1953, lawyer Lee Tae-young and other women’s representatives raised the issue of hojuje by submitting a proposal to the Code Compilation Committee to enact a civil law in conformity with the constitutional spirit of gender equality. They pointed out that the concept not only violates the equal rights of individuals but also promotes vertical and hierarchical relationships. These efforts led to amendments to the family law [3]. The movement to abolish the hojuje began in earnest, however, when the Korea Women’s Associations United launched the headquarters of the movement to abolish the hojuje in May 1999. The movement leaders perceived that the abolition of the hojuje was directly related to the family life of all citizens. They therefore tried to obtain public consent to change these old customs. Through both movements such as petitions for the abolition of the hojuje, signature movements, and demonstrations, and related events and a website (which received damage cases and provided a platform for sharing opinions), they were able to gain sympathy from citizens. They further held discussions and meetings with lawmakers to inform politicians of the need to abolish the hojuje, and campaigned for parties to adopt the abolition of the hojuje as a pledge on the presidential and general election. As a result, candidates of all parties adopted the abolition of the hojuje as a pledge in the 2002 presidential election.[4] 

At last, on September 4, 2003, the Ministry of Justice announced a revision to the civil law on the abolition of the hojuje, and on February 3, 2005, it finally decided to depart from Constitution Articles 781 and 778. The abolition of the hojuje which formed the pre-modern family concept is a significant achievement of the Korean women’s movement. It is highly meaningful in that it presented the values and directions of the family community and society of democracy, gender equality, and individual dignity.[5] 



[1] Insoon Nam. (2017). [30 years of women’s movement, record of courage and solidarity] ⑧ Half-century women’s movement’s long-awaited task, the abolishment of the hojuje. The Women’s News. Retrieved from https://www.womennews.co.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=118065.

[2] n.d. The abolition of the hojuje. Korea on record. Retrieved from https://theme.archives.go.kr//next/koreaOfRecord/abolishPatri.do.

[3] n.d. (2018). Journey to abolition of the hojuje. OPEN ARCHIVES. Retrieved from https://archives.kdemo.or.kr/contents/view/303.

[4] Insoon Nam. op.cit. (2017). The Korea Women’s Associations United. (2019). Family Edition_ How far do you know about women’s movement? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl4dhJU8QLw&t=124s.

[5]The Korea Women’s Associations United. (2005). [The Solidarity for the abolition of the hojuje] Welcome to the abolition of the hojuje, a symbol of sex discrimination for half a century! Retrieved from http://women21.or.kr/statement/908.

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