Two great posts in Development Impact (my favorite economics blog right now) on aspirations, expected returns to investments, and the advancement of women. The first reviews evidence on how increased labor market opportunities available to women lead parents to invest more in the daughter's education. The second looks at how recent quotas decreeing that a randomly chosen 1/3 of village governance seats in India be filled by women have led to increased aspirations among girls and their parents, as well as increased investments in the former. In the study they cite, the gender gap in child education (which favors boys at baseline) was decimated when a village headship was randomly assigned to a woman.
The posts, and the articles cited there in, make two powerful points. First, information on opportunities for girls that may be unknown to families (for whom the cost of obtaining such information is high because of, say, lack of access to "plugged in" social networks, media, etc) can be powerful in combating gender bias. Second, proactively breaking down institutional barriers can play an important role, too, something we saw with the Civil Rights Movement here on our shores.