Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah caused an outcry on Wednesday when he made what critics said were misogynistic comments about unmarried women.
At an event to celebrate a grant to the marriage fund in Tripoli, Mr Dbeibah said he wanted to “revitalise the market” for unmarried women to make the prospect of marriage more lucrative.
“Sometimes we give bonuses, especially for older women," he said.
Mr Dbeibah established the marital support fund to encourage Libyans to marry during a financial crisis that has emerged since the 2011 toppling of dictator Muammar Qaddafi and the subsequent civil war. He proposed in October to pay 40,000 Libyan dinars ($8,700) to each new Libyan couple upon marriage, to help start their life together.
The remarks sparked uproar online, with the hashtag “Libyan women are citizens, not a commodity” trending. Critics accused Mr Dbeibah of implying women were valuable only as prospects for marriage.
In a televised press conference on Thursday, Mr Dbeibah refused to apologise and defended himself against the widespread criticism, which he said came from “people residing outside Libya” and those “unfamiliar” with the Libyan culture and way of speaking.
Members of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP), which advocates for the inclusion of women in the political process, said the interim prime minister should act like a “role model” for the people.
”Prime Minister [Dbeibah] whose mandate expired last week sees unmarried women as a commodity and market he could benevolently invest in to jump start it since women’s only goal in life is to marry or expire,” the LWPP’s Ayat Mneina said.
Others, like Zahra Langi, a member of the UN-backed Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to bring democracy to Libya, linked the perception of women as a commodity to the rampant corruption in the country.
“Political finances from corruption … transforms members of society into goods that can be bought and sold so that human relations are based on the trade of benefit and the consumption of values,“ she said.
Libyan journalist Huda Elsrari called for Mr Dbeibah to be prosecuted for insulting Libyan women.
“Immunity should be lifted [from Dbeibah] to forge a path for prosecuting him on the charge of insulting the Libyan woman and denying the values set forth by the constitution,“ she wrote on Twitter.
The mandate for Mr Dbeibah’s interim government was scheduled to expire on December 24 with presidential elections that were delayed after disputes over the final list of candidates.
The electoral commission responsible for overseeing the vote recommended January 24 as a new date but the Tobruk-based parliament suggested waiting longer until the country achieves political stability.