Bowler Vanessa Phiri ,14, tries on batsman gear during a practice session at St Andrew’s International School [Julia Gunther/Al Jazeera]

BLANTYRE (By Julia Gunther, Al Jazeera)  –Vivek Ganesan founded the Cricket Academy in 2010. He decided to start small, with one team of 10 players, all local children from low-income areas. The academy grew faster than expected, and three years later, Ganesan found himself managing a nationwide sport and education programme in 25 schools all over Malawi.

“I swore not to treat a player differently whether … they were the cousin of a minister or high-ranking official,” said Ganesan, a boisterous 38-year-old with seemingly limitless energy.

He is the current president of the Malawi Cricket Union, or the MCU, and executive director of the Cricket Academy, a nonprofit organisation with the aim of promoting the development of grassroots-level cricket and empowerment of women in Malawi, particularly in schools and low-income areas. Some of his original players are still part of the academy today and play for the national teams.

 Although Malawi’s constitution, written in 1995, guarantees equal rights for men and women, gender disparities exist. Women remain disadvantaged and the differences are particularly marked when it comes to poverty, violence and HIV and Aids.

A single mother is far more likely to be poor than a single father. Violence against women is a daily reality, and due to sweeping unequal gender status in society, even sport is affected.

Which makes the story of the Malawian Under-19 Women’s Cricket Team all the more remarkable.