By Rebekah Curtis
LONDON (Reuters) - Gender equality is shrewd economics as well as a human right, the World Bank said on Monday in a report that showed countries with better opportunities for women and girls can boost productivity and development.
The most glaring disparity is the rate at which girls and women die relative to men in developing countries, according to "The World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development."
"Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalized world is not only wrong, but also economically harmful," said Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank chief economist.
"Sharing the fruits of growth and globalization equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals."
The report cited the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization's estimates that equal access to resources for female farmers could increase agricultural output in poorer countries by up to 4 percent.
It also said eliminating barriers preventing women working in certain occupations would cut the productivity gap between male and female workers by a third to a half, and increase output per worker by 3 to 25 percent in some countries.
"We need to achieve gender equality," said World Bank President Robert Zoellick.
He said that over the past five years the World Bank has provided funds to support girls' education, women's health, and women's access to credit, land, agricultural services, jobs, and infrastructure.
"This has been important work, but it has not been enough or central enough to what we do. Going forward, the World Bank Group will mainstream our gender work and find other ways to move the agenda forward to capture the full potential of half the world's population."
Significant gains in gender equality have been made in recent years. Women now represent 40 percent of the global labor force, 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, and more than half of university students, according to the report.
Over half a billion women have joined the workforce in the last 30 years, it added.
A link to the report can be found at the bank's website http://go.worldbank.org/
(Editing by Emma Batha and Eric Walsh)