Mariah Carey has defended her decision to perform in Saudi Arabia, insisting her appearance is "a positive step" towards ending gender segregation.

The Touch My Body hitmaker is due to perform in the Gulf kingdom's King Abdullah Economic City on Thursday (31Jan19) as part of the festivities surrounding the country's inaugural European tour golf tournament, The Saudi International.

However, her decision to play there has been slammed by activists due to Saudi Arabia's poor record on human and women's rights.

Mariah's representative defended the concert in a statement to WENN, explaining the star would perform in front of a mixed-sex crowd and believed the sold-out concert would help to promote gender equality.

"When presented with the offer to perform for an international and mixed gender audience in Saudi Arabia, Mariah accepted the opportunity as a positive step towards the dissolution of gender segregation," her rep claimed. "As a female songwriter with a message of empowerment and equality, she looks forward to bringing inspiration and encouragement to all audiences."

Her team also insisted that she was aware of the "cultural significance" of the concert as she is the first international female artist to play in the country. Saudi Arabian women must consult men on significant life decisions and are not allowed significant interaction with male non-family members.

Alia al-Hathloul, the sister of a Saudi feminist activist imprisoned by its government, told WENN she was "speechless" at the popstar's explanation for playing the gig. Mariah's response comes after Alia highlighted her sibling Loujain's incarceration and alleged torture at the hands of Saudi officials.

Omaima Al-Najjar, a co-founder of Women for Rights in Saudi Arabia (WARSA), which launched a petition calling on Mariah to boycott the country said the concerts are a diversion from the human rights abuses and the laws that restrict women's freedoms.

"The Saudi government is using entertainment to distract the people from human rights abuses because it can sense the anger among the public," she told The Washington Post, adding Mariah should have made her appearance conditional on the release of the women’s rights activists, because she "has power to stand for women ... as an artist and as a female."

Dutch DJ Tiesto, and Sean Paul will also provide entertainment during the Saudi golf tournament.