[EDITORIALS]A step toward equalityThe Supreme Court ruled yesterday that women should be recognized as full members of their clans. Based on social customs and precedents, lower courts have ruled against married daughters, but the Supreme Court returned the cases to Seoul High Court for retrials.
This ruling reflects the fact that the judiciary, taking social changes into account, has come closer to the principle of gender equality. Since the 1970s, industrialization and urbanization have substantially increased women’s participation in society, and as families get smaller and smaller, it has become almost impossible to differentiate between the roles of sons and daughters.
Despite this, clans have shown preference for men over women in the distribution of property managed by clan boards, becuase of traditional laws that recognize only male adults as full clan members. The court said yesterday that such traditional laws lose their effectiveness when, because of changes in society’s basic principles, they no longer serve law and order.
The Supreme Court said that this ruling will only be applied to future cases (and to the specific cases on which it was ruling). Applying the ruling to past cases would have resulted in chaos. Many legal relationships based on the precedents of past decades might have immediately become null and void. Legal disputes over property handed down under the clan system would have been rampant.
With the National Assembly’s decision in March to abolish hojuje, the patriarchal family registry system, many discriminatory laws were corrected. But it is still possible to find many factors in society that continue to hinder gender equality. They should be identified and corrected.
However, not all social customs that have been respected for many years should be considered examples of gender discrimination. What’s more, the abolition of hojuje could eventually threaten the very structure of the family, if individualism is allowed to be taken to unreasonable extremes.
The minority opinions dissenting from yesterday’s ruling, therefore, should be carefully noted. Those justices pointed out that the newly established principle may collide with other principles, such as freedom of assembly, religion and conscience. This is a time for Koreans to have the wisdom to bring gender equality and traditional values into harmony.