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Gender and Land Rights Database

Republic of Korea

Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights

It is customary for newly wed couples to go to live with the husband’s family.  Once in their husbands’ house, the woman becomes part of the extended family and, until the abolishment of the hojok - family registry - in 2005, she was cancelled from the registry of her natal family, loosing all rights inheritance (29).

Under the hojok system, women were registered under a male for their entire life. When a daughter was born, she was registered under her father. When she got married, she was registered under her husband, although keeping her father’s last name.  Since the abolishment of the hojok, women are a member their natal family, regardless of their marital status, just like men. When women get married, they change the marital status on their own individual registration document (30).

According to traditional Confucian ethics, women have to be submissive and subservient to their men. Men are the head of the household and breadwinners, while women take care of the husband and children and are responsible for all household tasks (31). In addition, in rural families, women also work in the fields as unpaid family workers (32). Confucianism also assigns strict roles and behavioural rules to all family members (31).

However, traditional customs are changing: many younger couples chose to live by themselves and smaller nuclear families are common. Moreover, the number of one-person households has increased, especially in metropolitan areas, due to rising divorce rates and a tendency for young adults to wait longer before they get married (30).

Traditionally, property acquired during marriage is registered under the husband’s name. Recently, especially among young couples, there is a growing tendency to register property in the name of both spouses, sponsored by women’s organizations’ campaigns for co-ownership of the property (20).

In the past, it was a social taboo to raise property issues before marriage so the property contract system was a not used. In 2001, however, one couple entered into a property contract. Since then, it has drawn the increasing interest of the would-be-married couples (20).

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

 - Traditionally, the village head was the eldest male member of the village and served as administrator, tax collector, agricultural extension agent, public health official and guardian of law and order.
Nowadays the national government controls every village through the county administration, which appoints the village head (33).

- Mudang is the shaman, usually a woman, who act as intercessors between a god and human beings. Mudang were influential figures in past days and were acknowledged as crucial links between households, families and communities because of the important role that worshipping had. In the past, shamanistic rites have also included agricultural rites (34).

Inheritance/succession de facto practices

Hojuje is the patriarchal family registration system which was based on the principle that all family members fall under the hoju, that is, the male head of the family, in order of patrilineal line. Under this system, inheritance also followed the line of the hoju and properties passed from the hoju to the eldest son (13).

The system was abolished in 2005 and the amendment to the Civil Act has gone into effect in January 2008 (13).

Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

- Although Article 23 of the Constitution guarantees equal right to property to all citizens, the family headship system, abolished in 2005, inhibited women’s access to ownership and inheritance of land and house (20).

- According to the Civil Act, property acquired during marriage may be registered as common property, unless it is acquired by either of the spouses autonomously; however, in practice, property is registered under the husband’s name in most cases, with a consequent small number of women who have land or house entitlement (20).

- Although the Civil Act comprises the property contract system as a legal tool to guarantee women’s rights to property during and upon dissolution of marriage, traditional taboos on discussing property issues prior to marriage have largely inhibited the use of this system (20).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography