California sees itself as a progressive place, but it is anything but when it comes to women in elected office. Barely one quarter of the legislature—and 1/15 of the Los Angeles city council – are women.

The trend persists despite many efforts to reverse it. And often, after elections like this past one, which was a near disaster for women, the question is posed as a puzzle: Why don’t we have more women?

It’s not a puzzle. The answer is easy: Because the essence of our political system defeats the most straightforward and effective strategies for gender parity in politics.

I got this lesson delivered to me (and not for the first time) last week in the Spanish Basque Country, where I was leading a global conference on direct democracy. Some attendees and I went to the Basque parliament (Basqueland is an autonomous region of three provinces with its own governor and legislature) to meet with the leaders.

I asked about the composition of the parliament, and the immediate reply was: we are very proud. We are 75 members—40 women and 35 men. A woman is the parliament’s president.

So what’s your secret? I asked.

There’s no secret. Our elections are conducted by offering voters party lists. And it’s the law that every party list be at least half women.

Many other places around the world have similar rules.

Party lists and proportional voting are the way democracy is conducted in most of the world. But in the U.S. and California, we stick to increasingly discredited 18th century forms, including single-member districts. Those of us who argue for a change are considered “unrealistic.” Good government “reformers” are particularly dismissive; their reforms embed the system that keeps women out even deeper.

Here’s my answer to them: Is gender parity “unrealistic”? Or just something you are opposing under cover of preserving a system that gives you power?