Kristof and WuDunn conclude Chapter 2 with a Hawaiian parable. A boy on a beach picks up starfish one by one, and throws each back into its ocean habitat. A nearby man, perplexed, tells the boy there are too many starfish to save, and he’ll never make a difference. The boy responds, “It sure made a difference to that one.” The rescued starfish represent a key point the authors make in Half the Sky: even if emancipation efforts won’t erase the problem of modern slavery, each person who does receive aid is a real, living person for whom efforts did make a difference.
This idea can also be applied to the book’s broader goal of recruiting the reader to the mission of gender equity. That is, even if not all the world’s vulnerable women can be saved from rape or maternal mortality, as long as the work improves any women’s lives, it’s worthwhile. In Half the Sky, the starfish symbol isn’t repeated beyond the parable, but it does represent the broader justification and argument for readers to work toward gender equity, even if it’s never achieved in full. Put another way: the parable of the starfish is an argument for urgent action now, and a refusal to give in to despair or inaction because of the immensity of the problem.