This paper examines the revision of the family law and the abolition of the head-of-family system in South Korea in 2005. Although the 1948 constitution guaranteed gender equality and women's suffrage, the family law remained male-oriented and discriminatory. Fifty years of struggle for the revision of the family law show that the patrilineal familial hierarchy is not merely a product of 'outdated' values, but deeply rooted and continually practised in Korean society. The landmark reform of the family law will be analysed in connection with the local women's movement, national politics and international organisations. In the beginning, the women's movement was led by pioneer feminists who established local women's organisations and submitted petitions to national lawmakers. In the early 1970s, feminist groups began to continuously mobilise the grassroots. After the transition to democracy in the late 1980s, public approval for the abolition of the head-of-family system began to grow at the local level. At the same time, the government increasingly signed up to international treaties and adjusted to global norms. With expanding political opportunities locally and globally, the women's movement was able to increase the pressure on the national government. Finally, the National Assembly voted for the abolition of the head-of-family system.