In 2008, following her failed bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented her loss: “We weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling.” After ten years and one more defeat for Clinton, that glass ceiling remains intact.

Although politics on the national scale garners much more attention, state offices are no less important—that’s where most of the work gets done, yet also where the least attention is focused. In Massachusetts, only 25% of the state legislature is made up of women, and we are around the middle of the pack (27th out of 50 in terms of proportional representation). The most inclusive state, Arizona, has a legislature comprised of 40% women. The worst state, Wyoming, has a legislature that is only 11% female. Achieving gender parity in state legislatures is imperative, not only in enacting equitable and just policies for women but also for the function of our democracy.

The importance of ensuring proportional representation of women cannot be stressed enough. Our system of government works if—and only if—our elected representatives accurately represent us. Take, for example, last summer’s healthcare debate, when a group of 30 men consisting of the Republican leadership and the House Freedom Caucus attempted to slash healthcare coverage for women and gut funding for Planned Parenthood—a ringing example of how no man could deign to know how a woman would be affected by policy, much less empathize with her. This is, of course, not to suggest that women are a monolithic voting bloc with a singular political will. In fact, just the opposite: a politically diverse group of women debating and amending legislation is essential to fair governance. Without a variety of opinions and perspectives present in the legislative process, it is impossible to claim that the views of all constituents are fairly represented.

The number of women in the state legislature steadily increased starting in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but has leveled off since the turn of the millenium. In the Massachusetts Senate, there has not been a female Republican senator since 2004. Currently, Republicans hold only seven of the 40 Senate seats. Democrats hold 32 seats, of which women occupy eleven (one vacant seat brings the total to 40). In the House, the composition of women remains fairly consistent across party lines—30 women out of 125 Democrats, and eight out of 35 Republicans.

The representation of women of color is also important to highlight: it should surprise no one that people of color, especially women, have been continually underserved and underrepresented by their government. To properly aid communities that have been the victims of low education standards and poverty, which bring with them a slew of social and health issues, any first step must rely on the principle of self-determination: communities are best represented by their own members. And yet although women of color represent roughly 13% of the population of Massachusetts, prior to the 2016 election, there were a whopping four women of color serving in the Massachusetts state legislature (two in the House and two in the Senate). During that election cycle, the House gained one female representative of color, bringing the grand total to five—or still just a measly 2.5% of the legislature.

One enormous factor in a candidate’s electoral success is incumbency. Since most men will never face a serious challenger again once they’ve been elected to office—currently only around ten percent of incumbents face a primary challenger—women are rarely able to knock off an incumbent, and therefore can only compete in races after the sitting representative has stepped down. Furthermore, since the legislative session beginning in 1999, there has been surprisingly little change in the number of women in the legislature. Out of 200 total seats in the House and Senate, female representatives have consistently accounted for roughly 50, or 25%—the lowest it has dipped since 1999 was 49, and the highest it reached was 52. This has led to a sort of equilibrium around 25% representation; women retire and gain new seats at about the same rate.

The problem isn’t that women are unwilling to run or that voters are unwilling to elect them—rather, their constraints lie in the power of incumbency. Incumbent reelection rates in Massachusetts are prohibitively high for any potential challengers, so much so that the number of contested primaries has fallen steadily over time. Furthermore, primaries are the real battleground: nearly every district in Massachusetts is not competitive across party lines, so serious general election challenges are rare.

The only way that this situation can change is if more people get involved in state politics. Just look at the data: women win 73% of the party primaries they enter, as well as 71% of general elections. The roadblock to gender balance in the legislature lies in the fact that there are just so few races for women to enter. Grassroots organizing and a real political will on the part of voters are essential to achieving gender parity in legislatures in Massachusetts and across the country. Engaging in state and local politics, supporting female candidates, and pressuring state party organizations to nominate more women—among countless other things—are all hugely important first steps to making our government more fair for all. Fighting for democracy means fighting for equality, and that fight must take place on all fronts.