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Underemployment, low incomes and poor working conditions keep many people in low-income countries in poverty and make it difficult to access education, care and social safety nets. Sida is working to ensure that more people gain secure employment – especially women and young people.

Progress has been made

Decrease in unemployment

Global unemployment has decreased over the last ten years, according to the International Labour Organization.

Growing number of female entrepreneurs

A growing number of women are starting businesses. The Sub-Saharan Africa region has the highest proportion of female entrepreneurs (22 percent) worldwide, more than double the global average (10 percent). 

Respect for workers’ right

In recent decades, the global trade union movement has strengthened as the economy and the labour market become increasingly globalised. Among other things, the global unions sign agreements  with multinational companies that promise to respect workers’ rights, no matter where in the world they work.

Challenges remain

Covid effect increases poverty

According to the World Bank, global growth is expected to decline by 5.2 percent due to the effects of the covid-19 pandemic. As a result, incomes for the poor in Sida’s partner countries fall. The number of poor is also expected to increase for the first time in 20 years.

Vulnerable informal sector

It is estimated that two billion people worldwide work in the informal economy, where many lack job security and have low and insecure incomes. Informal workers are more greatly affected by poverty than those in formal jobs. 

Lack of gender equality

The global labour market is not gender-equal. The gap between the proportion of working women and men is large (47 percent and 74 percent respectively) and in low-income and lower middle-income countries more women than men have jobs in the informal sector, where wages are lower and conditions worse. Globally, women also do three times as much unpaid work at home compared to men. 

Workersrights are violated

Violations of workers’ rights have become more frequent in recent years. According to the Global Rights Index, in 2019 85 percent of the world’s countries restricted the right to strike. In 107 countries, workers were prevented from starting or joining a trade union. Trade union members risk detention, threats, violence and even murder because of their involvement.

Sida's work with employment

In Sida’s partner countries, many people work in the informal economy. Productivity and incomes are often low, and many people lack employment protection. This makes it difficult for people to improve their lives, send their children to school and access care, medicines and social security. The fair employment of people is also important for preventing conflicts and maintaining peace.

Employment and making a living

According to the International Labour Organization around 188 million people worldwide are unemployed, and in low and middle-income countries, a quarter of those working have insufficient incomes, trapping them in poverty. People who are unemployed find it more difficult to support themselves, fare worse in a crisis or conflict, and are less able to improve their own lives and those of their family members.

Making young people employable

In Liberia, youth unemployment is very high. The Mercy Corps organisation works to reduce youth unemployment, support young entrepreneurs and make young people employable.

Jobs outside the agricultural sector

In Rwanda, many families live on small farms that do not produce enough food to support them. In two of the poorest districts in the country, the World Vision organisation enables women and young people to get jobs outside the agriculture sector. This allows more people to support themselves and send their children to school. At the same time, societies become more resilient to crises.

World Vision web page


Working conditions

A large proportion of the world’s workers lack contracts, security and rights in their workplaces and earn wages that are too low to live on. This is particularly true for workers in low and middle-income countries.

Supporting during the covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic already affects jobs held in particular by vulnerable people, especially women, young people and migrants. Sida is reorganizing its support to meet this crisis. In Mozambique, with the help of Sida’s support, the ILO has succeeded in preserving jobs and creating new ones, mainly in the informal economy. Similar efforts are under way in Albania.

About Sida’s covid-19 support on the ILO website

Improving conditions in the textile industry

In many low-income countries, workers have little opportunity to influence their working conditions. In Bangladesh, the country’s government and the ILO (the International Labour Organisation) are collaborating to empower workers in the textile industry. The intervention enables more employees to organise themselves into unions and thus influence their conditions.

About the work in Bangladesh on the ILO web page

Social security systems

Those who do not have formal paid work are often excluded from social security systems, such as health insurance and pensions. Many people also have less access to care and education, and have fewer resources for their children – which in turn makes it harder to rise up out of poverty.

Support to welfare system

Around half  of Zambia’s population lives in extreme poverty, according to World Bank statistics. Sida supports the UN Joint Programme on Social Protection, which aims to improve the country’s welfare system. Special support is provided for persons with disabilities and vulnerable families who live in poverty and are severely affected by drought.


On the African continent, over 85 percent of the population works in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organization. This means that many people have low wages and limited access to social security systems. Sida supports the development of social security systems in numerous countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Kenya, with the aim of making them more inclusive and equal. In several programmes, the most vulnerable people receive cash support. This helps enable  more people to eat more nutritious food, maintain good health, and go to school.

About the project on the Unicef web page

Scope of Sida’s work with employment

In 2019, Sida’s support for interventions with employment as their main objective totalled SEK 1.3 billion in funding. Many others of Sida’s focus areas, such as agricultural development, private sector development, education and energy, also contribute to increasing employment.

Updated: 11 February 2021