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Human rights and agents of change in Iran: Towards a theory of change
journal contributionposted on 2018-07-01, 00:00 authored by R Barlow, Shahram AkbarzadehShahram Akbarzadeh
© The Author(s) 2018. This article examines two approaches to the promotion of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran through a theory of change lens. One, the political reform movement of the late 1990s, which promoted the principles of pluralism, civil society, and the rule of law via a top-down and inside track approach. Two, the One Million Signatures Campaign of the mid-2000s, which called for an end to all discriminatory laws against women via a bottom-up and outside track approach. Examining key factors underpinning the development of a theory of change, the authors analyse the objectives, strategies, targets, constraints, and relationships that characterised each initiative. The analysis shows that both initiatives failed not only because of the highly restrictive operating environment of the Islamic Republic, but also due to internal strategic missteps. Two important lessons emerge that may assist in grounding future human rights efforts in Iran in more effective theories of change. One, promoting Islamic values and interests to advance rights-based principles must be coupled with arguments grounded in evidence, research, and analysis. Two, drivers of change in Iran must stop working in top-down/inside and bottom-up/ outside track silos and establish an ethos of best-practice sharing where confrontation and cooperation are treated as mutually reinforcing approaches.